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The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca, extending
south-eastward from the territories of Birmah, forms the most
southerly point of all Asia. In a continuous line from that
peninsula stretch the long islands of Sumatra, Java, Bally, and
Timor; which, with many others, form a vast mole, or rampart,
lengthwise connecting Asia with Australia, and dividing the long
unbroken Indian ocean from the thickly studded oriental archipelagoes.
This rampart is pierced by several sally-ports for the
convenience of ships and whales; conspicuous among which are
the straits of Sunda and Malacca. By the straits of Sunda,
chiefly, vessels bound to China from the west, emerge into the
China seas.

Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java;
and standing midway in that vast rampart of islands, buttressed


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by that bold green promontory, known to seamen as Java Head;
they not a little correspond to the central gateway opening into
some vast walled empire: and considering the inexhaustible
wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, with
which the thousand islands of that oriental sea are enriched, it
seems a significant provision of nature, that such treasures, by
the very formation of the land, should at least bear the appearance,
however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping
western world. The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied
with those domineering fortresses which guard the entrances
to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis. Unlike
the Danes, these Orientals do not demand the obsequious homage
of lowered top-sails from the endless procession of ships before
the wind, which for centuries past, by night and by day, have
passed between the islands of Sumatra and Java, freighted with
the costliest cargoes of the east. But while they freely waive a
ceremonial like this, they do by no means renounce their claim
to more solid tribute.

Time out of mind the piratical proas of the Malays, lurking
among the low shaded coves and islets of Sumatra, have sallied
out upon the vessels sailing through the straits, fiercely demanding
tribute at the point of their spears. Though by the
repeated bloody chastisements they have received at the hands
of European cruisers, the audacity of these corsairs has of late
been somewhat repressed; yet, even at the present day, we
occasionally hear of English and American vessels, which, in
those waters, have been remorselessly boarded and pillaged.

With a fair, fresh wind, the Pequod was now drawing nigh
to these straits; Ahab purposing to pass through them into the
Javan sea, and thence, cruising northwards, over waters known
to be frequented here and there by the Sperm Whale, sweep
inshore by the Philippine Islands, and gain the far coast of Japan,
in time for the great whaling season there. By these means,
the circumnavigating Pequod would sweep almost all the known


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Sperm Whale crusing grounds of the world, previous to descending
upon the Line in the Pacific; where Ahab, though everywhere
else foiled in his pursuit, firmly counted upon giving
battle to Moby Dick, in the sea he was most known to frequent;
and at a season when he might most reasonably be presumed
to be haunting it.

But how now? in this zoned quest, does Ahab touch no land?
does his crew drink air? Surely, he will stop for water. Nay.
For a long time, now, the circus-running sun has raced within
his fiery ring, and needs no sustenance but what's in himself.
So Ahab. Mark this, too, in the whaler. While other hulls
are loaded down with alien stuff, to be transferred to foreign
wharves; the world-wandering whale-ship carries no cargo but
herself and crew, their weapons and their wants. She has a
whole lake's contents bottled in her ample hold. She is ballasted
with utilities; not altogether with unusable pig-lead and
kentledge. She carries years' water in her. Clear old prime
Nantucket water; which, when three years afloat, the Nantucketer,
in the Pacific, prefers to drink before the brackish fluid, but
yesterday rafted off in casks, from the Peruvian or Indian streams.
Hence it is, that, while other ships may have gone to China
from New York, and back again, touching at a score of ports,
the whale-ship, in all that interval, may not have sighted one
grain of soil; her crew having seen no man but floating seamen
like themselves. So that did you carry them the news that
another flood had come; they would only answer—“Well, boys,
here's the ark!”

Now, as many Sperm Whales had been captured off the
western coast of Java, in the near vicinity of the Straits of Sunda;
indeed, as most of the ground, roundabout, was generally recognised
by the fishermen as an excellent spot for cruising; therefore,
as the Pequod gained more and more upon Java Head,
the look-outs were repeatedly hailed, and admonished to keep
wide awake. But though the green palmy cliffs of the land


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soon loomed on the starboard bow, and with delighted nostrils
the fresh cinnamon was snuffed in the air, yet not a single jet
was descried. Almost renouncing all thought of falling in with
any game hereabouts, the ship had well nigh entered the straits,
when the customary cheering cry was heard from aloft, and ere
long a spectacle of singular magnificence saluted us.

But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity
with which of late they have been hunted over all four oceans,
the Sperm Whales, instead of almost invariably sailing in small
detached companies, as in former times, are now frequently met
with in extensive herds, sometimes embracing so great a multitude,
that it would almost seem as if numerous nations of them
had sworn solemn league and covenant for mutual assistance
and protection. To this aggregation of the Sperm Whale into
such immense caravans, may be imputed the circumstance that
even in the best cruising grounds, you may now sometimes sail
for weeks and months together, without being greeted by a
single spout; and then be suddenly saluted by what sometimes
seems thousands on thousands.

Broad on both bows, at the distance of some two or three
miles, and forming a great semicircle, embracing one half of the
level horizon, a continuous chain of whale-jets were up-playing
and sparkling in the noon-day air. Unlike the straight perpendicular
twin-jets of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, fall
over in two branches, like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow,
the single forward-slanting spout of the Sperm Whale presents
a thick curled bush of white mist, continually rising and falling
away to leeward.

Seen from the Pequod's deck, then, as she would rise on a
high hill of the sea, this host of vapory spouts, individually curling
up into the air, and beheld through a blending atmosphere
of bluish haze, showed like the thousand cheerful chimneys of
some dense metropolis, descried of a balmy autumnal morning,
by some horseman on a height.


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As marching armies approaching an unfriendly defile in the
mountains, accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that
perilous passage in their rear, and once more expand in comparative
security upon the plain; even so did this vast fleet of
whales now seem hurrying forward through the straits;
gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle, and swimming
on, in one solid, but still crescentic centre.

Crowding all sail the Pequod pressed after them; the
harpooneers handling their weapons, and loudly cheering from
the heads of their yet suspended boats. If the wind only held,
little doubt had they, that chased through these Straits of Sunda,
the vast host would only deploy into the Oriental seas to witness
the capture of not a few of their number. And who could tell
whether, in that congregated caravan, Moby Dick himself might
not temporarily be swimming, like the worshipped white-elephant
in the coronation procession of the Siamese! So with
stun-sail piled on stun-sail, we sailed along, driving these
leviathans before us; when, of a sudden, the voice of Tashtego
was heard, loudly directing attention to something in our wake.

Corresponding to the crescent in our van, we beheld another
in our rear. It seemed formed of detached white vapors, rising
and falling something like the spouts of the whales; only they
did not so completely come and go; for they constantly hovered,
without finally dispapearing. Levelling his glass at this sight,
Ahab quickly revolved in his pivot-hole, crying, “Aloft there,
and rig whips and buckets to wet the sails;—Malays, sir, and
after us!”

As if too long lurking behind the headlands, till the Pequod
should fairly have entered the straits, these rascally Asiatics were
now in hot pursuit, to make up for their over-cautious delay.
But when the swift Pequod, with a fresh leading wind, was
herself in hot chase; how very kind of these tawny philanthropists
to assist in speeding her on to her own chosen pursuit,—
mere riding-whips and rowels to her, that they were. As with


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glass under arm, Ahab to-and-fro paced the deck; in his forward
turn beholding the monsters he chased, and in the after one
the bloodthirsty pirates chasing him; some such fancy as the
above seemed his. And when he glanced upon the green walls
of the watery defile in which the ship was then sailing, and
bethought him that through that gate lay the route to his
vengeance, and beheld, how that through that same gate he was
now both chasing and being chased to his deadly end; and not
only that, but a herd of remorseless wild pirates and inhuman
atheistical devils were infernally cheering him on with their
curses;—when all these conceits had passed through his brain,
Ahab's brow was left gaunt and ribbed, like the black sand
beach after some stormy tide has been gnawing it, without being
able to drag the firm thing from its place.

But thoughts like these troubled very few of the reckless crew;
and when, after steadily dropping and dropping the pirates astern,
the Pequod at last shot by the vivid green Cockatoo Point on
the Sumatra side, emerging at last upon the broad waters
beyond; then, the harpooneers seemed more to grieve that the
swift whales had been gaining upon the ship, than to rejoice
that the ship had so victoriously gained upon the Malays. But
still driving on in the wake of the whales, at length they seemed
abating their speed; gradually the ship neared them; and the
wind now dying away, word was passed to spring to the boats.
But no sooner did the herd, by some presumed wonderful instinct
of the Sperm Whale, become notified of the three keels that
were after them,—though as yet a mile in their rear,—than
they rallied again, and forming in close ranks and battalions,
so that their spouts all looked like flashing lines of stacked
bayonets, moved on with redoubled velocity.

Stripped to our shirts and drawers, we sprang to the white-ash,
and after several hours' pulling were almost disposed to
renounce the chase, when a general pausing commotion among
the whales gave animating token that they were now at last


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under the influence of that strange perplexity of inert irresolution,
which, when the fishermen perceive it in the whale, they
say he is gallied. The compact martial columns in which they
had been hitherto rapidly and steadily swimming, were now
broken up in one measureless rout; and like King Porus' elephants
in the Indian battle with Alexander, they seemed going
mad with consternation. In all directions expanding in vast
irregular circles, and aimlessly swimming hither and thither,
by their short thick spoutings, they plainly betrayed their distraction
of panic. This was still more strangely evinced by
those of their number, who, completely paralysed as it were,
helplessly floated like water-logged dismantled ships on the sea.
Had these leviathans been but a flock of simple sheep, pursued
over the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could not possibly
have evinced such excessive dismay. But this occasional
timidity is characteristic of almost all herding creatures. Though
banding together in tens of thousands, the lion-maned buffaloes
of the West have fled before a solitary horseman. Witness,
too, all human beings, how when herded together in the sheepfold
of a theatre's pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire,
rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming,
and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore,
withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before
us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not
infinitely outdone by the madness of men.

Though many of the whales, as has been said, were in violent
motion, yet it is to be observed that as a whole the herd neither
advanced nor retreated, but collectively remained in one place.
As is customary in those cases, the boats at once separated, each
making for some one lone whale on the outskirts of the shoal.
In about three minutes' time, Queequeg's harpoon was flung;
the stricken fish darted blinding spray in our faces, and then
running away with us like light, steered straight for the heart
of the herd. Though such a movement on the part of the


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whale struck under such circumstances, is in no wise unprecedented;
and indeed is almost always more or less anticipated;
yet does it present one of the more perilous vicissitudes of the
fishery. For as the swift monster drags you deeper and deeper
into the frantic shoal, you bid adieu to circumspect life and only
exist in a delirious throb.

As, blind and deaf, the whale plunged forward, as if by sheer
power of speed to rid himself of the iron leech that had
fastened to him; as we thus tore a white gash in the sea, on
all sides menaced as we flew, by the crazed creatures to and
fro rushing about us; our beset boat was like a ship mobbed by
ice-isles in a tempest, and striving to steer through their complicated
channels and straits, knowing not at what moment it
may be locked in and crushed.

But not a bit daunted, Queequeg steered us manfully; now
sheering off from this monster directly across our route in advance;
now edging away from that, whose colossal flukes were
suspended overhead, while all the time, Starbuck stood up in
the bows, lance in hand, pricking out of our way whatever
whales he could reach by short darts, for there was no time to
make long ones. Nor were the oarsmen quite idle, though
their wonted duty was now altogether dispensed with. They
chiefly attended to the shouting part of the business. “Out
of the way, Commodore!” cried one, to a great dromedary that
of a sudden rose bodily to the surface, and for an instant threatened
to swamp us. “Hard down with your tail, there!” cried
a second to another, which, close to our gunwale, seemed calmly
cooling himself with his own fan-like extremity.

All whaleboats carry certain curious contrivances, originally
invented by the Nantucket Indians, called druggs. Two thick
squares of wood of equal size are stoutly clenched together, so
that they cross each other's grain at right angles; a line of considerable
length is then attached to the middle of this block, and
the other end of the line being looped, it can in a moment be


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fastened to a harpoon. It is chiefly among gallied whales that
this drugg is used. For then, more whales are close round you
than you can possibly chase at one time. But sperm whales are
not every day encountered; while you may, then, you must kill
all you can. And if you cannot kill them all at once, you must
wing them, so that they can be afterwards killed at your leisure.
Hence it is, that at times like these the drugg comes into
requisition. Our boat was furnished with three of them. The
first and second were successfully darted, and we saw the whales
staggeringly running off, fettered by the enormous sidelong
resistance of the towing drugg. They were cramped like malefactors
with the chain and ball. But upon flinging the third, in
the act of tossing overboard the clumsy wooden block, it caught
under one of the seats of the boat, and in an instant tore it out
and carried it away, dropping the oarsman in the boat's bottom
as the seat slid from under him. On both sides the sea came in
at the wounded planks, but we stuffed two or three drawers and
shirts in, and so stopped the leaks for the time.

It had been next to impossible to dart these drugged-harpoons,
were it not that as we advanced into the herd, our
whale's way greatly diminished; moreover, that as we went still
further and further from the circumference of commotion, the
direful disorders seemed waning. So that when at last the
jerking harpoon drew out, and the towing whale sideways vanished;
then, with the tapering force of his parting momentum,
we glided between two whales into the innermost heart of the
shoal, as if from some mountain torrent we had slid into a
serene valley lake. Here the storms in the roaring glens between
the outermost whales, were heard but not felt. In this
central expanse the sea presented that smooth satin-like surface,
called a sleek, produced by the subtle moisture thrown off by the
whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now in that
enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.
And still in the distracted distance we beheld the


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tumults of the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods
of whales, eight or ten in each, swiftly going round and round,
like multiplied spans of horses in a ring; and so closely shoulder
to shoulder, that a Titanic circus-rider might easily have over-arched
the middle ones, and so have gone round on their backs.
Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing whales, more
immediately surrounding the embayed axis of the herd, no possible
chance of escape was at present afforded us. We must
watch for a breach in the living wall that hemmed us in; the
wall that had only admitted us in order to shut us up. Keeping
at the centre of the lake, we were occasionally visited by
small tame cows and calves; the women and children of this
routed host.

Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the
revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the
various pods in any one of those circles, the entire area at this
juncture, embraced by the whole multitude, must have contained
at least two or three square miles. At any rate—though indeed
such a test at such a time might be deceptive—spoutings might
be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost
from the rim of the horizon. I mention this circumstance,
because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up
in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd
had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of
its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and
every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have
been, these smaller whales—now and then visiting our becalmed
boat from the margin of the lake—evinced a wondrous fearlessness
and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it
was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they
came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching
them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly
domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck


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scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the
consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface,
another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over
the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the
forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by
their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The
lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly
transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly
and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different
lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment,
be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—
even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards
us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulf-weed in their
new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also
seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from
certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have
measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in
girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed
scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately
occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all
ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a
Tartar's bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes,
still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's
ears newly arrived from foreign parts.

“Line! line!” cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale;
“him fast! him fast!—Who line him! Who struck?—Two
whale; one big, one little!”

“What ails ye, man?” cried Starbuck.

“Look-e here,” said Queequeg pointing down.

As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out
hundreds of fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats
up again, and shows the slackened curling line buoyantly rising


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and spiralling towards the air; so now, Starbuck saw long coils
of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan, by which the young
cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not seldom in the rapid
vicisitudes of the chase, this natural line, with the maternal end
loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that the cub
is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas
seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond. We saw young
Leviathan amours in the deep.[1]

And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations
and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the
centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments;
yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so,
amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for
ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets
of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland
there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.

Meanwhile, as we thus lay entranced, the occasional sudden
frantic spectacles in the distance evinced the activity of the
other boats, still engaged in drugging the whales on the frontier
of the host; or possibly carrying on the war within the first
circle, where abundance of room and some convenient retreats
were afforded them. But the sight of the enraged drugged
whales now and then blindly darting to and fro across the
circles, was nothing to what at last met our eyes. It is sometimes


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the custom when fast to a whale more than commonly
powerful and alert, to seek to hamstring him, as it were, by
sundering or maiming his gigantic tail-tendon. It is done by
darting a short-handled cutting-spade, to which is attached a
rope for hauling it back again. A whale wounded (as we afterwards
learned) in this part, but not effectually, as it seemed,
had broken away from the boat, carrying along with him half
of the harpoon line; and in the extraordinary agony of the
wound, he was now dashing among the revolving circles like the
lone mounted desperado Arnold, at the battle of Saratoga, carrying
dismay wherever he went.

But agonizing as was the wound of this whale, and an appalling
spectacle enough, any way; yet the peculiar horror with
which he seemed to inspire the rest of the herd, was owing to
a cause which at first the intervening distance obscured from us.
But at length we perceived that by one of the unimaginable
accidents of the fishery, this whale had become entangled in the
harpoon-line that he towed; he had also run away with the
cutting-spade in him; and while the free end of the rope attached
to that weapon, had permanently caught in the coils of the harpoon-line
round his tail, the cutting-spade itself had worked
loose from his flesh. So that tormented to madness, he was
now churning through the water, violently flailing with his flexible
tail, and tossing the keen spade about him, wounding and
murdering his own comrades.

This terrific object seemed to recall the whole herd from their
stationary fright. First, the whales forming the margin of our
lake began to crowd a little, and tumble against each other, as
if lifted by half spent billows from afar; then the lake itself
began faintly to heave and swell; the submarine bridal-chambers
and nurseries vanished; in more and more contracting orbits the
whales in the more central circles began to swim in thickening
clusters. Yes, the long calm was departing. A low advancing
hum was soon heard; and then like to the tumultuous masses


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of block-ice when the great river Hudson breaks up in Spring,
the entire host of whales came tumbling upon their inner centre,
as if to pile themselves up in one common mountain. Instantly
Starbuck and Queequeg changed places; Starbuck taking the

“Oars! Oars!” he intensely whispered, seizing the helm—
“gripe your oars, and clutch your souls, now! My God, men,
stand by! Shove him off, you Queequeg—the whale there!
—prick him!—hit him! Stand up—stand up, and stay so!
Spring, men—pull, men; never mind their backs—scrape them!
—scrape away!”

The boat was now all but jammed between two vast black
bulks, leaving a narrow Dardanelles between their long lengths.
But by desperate endeavor we at last shot into a temporary
opening; then giving way rapidly, and at the same time earnestly
watching for another outlet. After many similar hair-breadth
escapes, we at last swiftly glided into what had just been one
of the outer circles, but now crossed by random whales, all
violently making for one centre. This lucky salvation was
cheaply purchased by the loss of Queequeg's hat, who, while
standing in the bows to prick the fugitive whales, had his hat
taken clean from his head by the air-eddy made by the sudden
tossing of a pair of broad flukes close by.

Riotous and disordered as the universal commotion now was,
it soon resolved itself into what seemed a systematic movement;
for having clumped together at last in one dense body, they then
renewed their onward flight with augmented fleetness. Further
pursuit was useless; but the boats still lingered in their wake to
pick up what drugged whales might be dropped astern, and
likewise to secure one which Flask had killed and waifed. The
waif is a pennoned pole, two or three of which are carried by
every boat; and which, when additional game is at hand, are
inserted upright into the floating body of a dead whale, both to


Page 436
mark its place on the sea, and also as token of prior possession,
should the boats of any other ship draw near.

The result of this lowering was somewhat illustrative of that
sagacious saying in the Fishery,—the more whales the less fish.
Of all the drugged whales only one was captured. The rest
contrived to escape for the time, but only to be taken, as will
hereafter be seen, by some other craft than the Pequod.


The sperm whale, as with all other species of the Leviathan, but
unlike most other fish, breeds indifferently at all seasons; after a gestation
which may probably be set down at nine months, producing but one at
a time; though in some few known instances giving birth to an Esau and
Jacob:—a contingency provided for in suckling by two teats, curiously
situated, one on each side of the anus; but the breasts themselves extend
upwards from that. When by chance these precious parts in a nursing
whale are cut by the hunter's lance, the mother's pouring milk and blood
rivallingly discolor the sea for rods. The milk is very sweet and rich; it
has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries. When overflowing
with mutual esteem, the whales salute more hominum.