Moby Dick: Comparing Whaling Now to the Occupation in the Nineteenth Century The whaling industry has drastically changed technologically and politically from the time depicted in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby Dick to the present. New harpoons, faster motor ships, and shore butchering stations have made whaling safer and quicker than Melville could have ever imagined. These changes are due largely to new technology and the increased value for whale products. The new methods of whaling have also caused a huge reduction in the size of the whale population. The decreased whale population has brought about new whaling laws that restrict whalers. These laws and a decreased need for whale oil have caused many whaling companies in the United States to close.
Moby Dick does not seem to be a fictional story. It seems like a true story of a captain and his crew (Browne 263).
This is because Melville spent time as a whaler before he wrote the book. Herman Melville was born in New York in 1819.
His father died when Melville was young which had a large impact on his life. His death caused Melville’s family economic problems, which forced Melville to drop out of Albany Academy. He began working on whaling ships to help his impoverished family. This experience allowed him to write many of his novels such as Type, Ooo, and Mardi. Melville describes himself as having made more than one cruise as a South- sea-whaler, and supposing this to have been the fact, he must nevertheless have laboriously consulted all the books treating on the remotest degree on the habits, natural history and mode of capturing this animal, which he could obtain, for such an amazing mass of accurate and curious information on the subject of the sperm-whale (“Trio”).
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He had even once stated that the whaling ship was his Yale and Harvard (Miller 879).
On of the most exciting and detailed portions of Melville’s Moby Dick was the killing of a whale. After the whale was spotted, the crew rows quietly out toward the animal. When they had come close to the whale, they had to manually throw a harpoon that was attached to the boat with a rope. The whale was outraged and tried to flee. The small rowboat was pulled and tugged by the animal and all the crew could do was hold on to the boat for their lives. From the vibrating line extending the entire length of the upper part of the boat, and from its now being more tight than a harp string, you would have thought the craft had two keels – one cleaving the water, the other the air – as the boat churned on through both opposing elements at once (Melville 351).
After the whale began to tire, and was close enough to touch, the crew repeatedly stabbed the creature until it bled to death. After the kill, the whale was tied to the ship with its head tied to the stern and its tail to the bow. The carcass then had to be watched twenty-four hours a day to keep sharks from eating it (Melville 350-354).
In the early twentieth century the whaling industry began to change.
Harpoons were now shot from a gun into the whale. The harpoon point broke into four prongs when it hit the animal to anchor the harpoon and cause more damage to the whale’s flesh and arteries. When the harpoon is secured to the whale, the boat’s engine was thrown into reverse to tire the whale. After the whale was exhausted from blood lose and pulling, it was shot and put out of its misery. Then the carcass was pumped with air to keep it afloat. Then a second ship pulled the carcass to a shore station where it was butchered.
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The first ship moved on for another kill (Murphy 152).
The new methods of whaling made it easier, safer, and faster than the old methods. A single whaling ship could get four times more than in Melville’s days (Murphy 152).
Whaling in the United States began to die out because of new products like petroleum, but the industry in foreign countries still prospered.
The new methods made it so easy and fast to kill whales that the whale population could not keep up. The sharp decrease in the whale population caused the price of whale oil to skyrocket in foreign markets (Murphy 155).
Whalers began looking in the Artic for whales and found them. The whalers became wasteful with the newfound whale population.
They only used the thickest parts of the whales, which broke new whaling laws. They also began to build floating factories, which reduced the costs of butchering (Murphy 156).
Present day whaling is still common in Japan, Russia, China, and Korea because they claim it is an important part of their economy and tradition. Now these nations have to battle with strict whaling laws and regulations and groups like Greenpeace, which fight hard to outlaw whaling. In 1994 the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary was created to protect whales in the Antarctic, but Japanese whalers refuse to obey the international law (Williams).
Now nations like the United States, England, New Zealand, and Australia have joined with Greenpeace to pressure Japan into putting an end to their commercial whaling.
Greenpeace has protested against Japanese whaling many times. Greenpeace has used fire hoses to block the sight of whalers, helicopters to intercept whalers, volunteers to chain themselves to whaling boats, and have used many other tactics (Williams).
While Greenpeace has been protesting, the United States, England, New Zealand, and Australia have been meeting with Japanese officials to compromise whaling regulations (Williams).
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Their efforts have made little progress in impressing Japan because they still are killing whales for food and products. Whaling in the United States is now more valuable as a tourist attraction (Murphy 171).
Millions of tourists a year pay for large ships to take them on a whaling expedition.
The expedition allows the tourists to see and take pictures of whales close to them. The tourists pay a large enough amount of money to make the trip worth more than an actual whaling trip. This also allows the whale population to increase because there are fewer hunters to kill them. The changes in the methods of whaling and attitudes toward whaling between Melville’s time and present are obviously large. The technological changes allowed the killing of whales to become easier, safer, and faster. It also caused the whale population to suffer a horrible blow.
Now that other products have replaced whale oil many nations have outlawed whaling to protect the species. Groups like Greenpeace have made it their mission to end whaling in every country, including Japan. Herman Melville would be disappointed to see such an exciting career left behind. Browne, Ray, ed.
“Herman Melville.” Critical Approaches to American Literature. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1965. 260-290 Melville, Herman.
Moby Dick. in Four American Novels. Fuller, Edmund, ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959. 191-468 Miller, Perry, ed.
“Melville.” Major Writers of America. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc. , 1962. 877-890 Murphy, Jim.
Gone-A-Whaling. New York: Clarion Books, 1998. 151-181 “A Trio of American Sailor-Authors.” Dublin University Magazine. January 1856. 7 May 2000. Williams, James.
“Greenpeace Stops Illegal Antarctic Whaling.” 11 May 2000.