Chapter 74 The Sperm Whale’s Head — Contrasted View
Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let us joi_hem, and lay together our own.
Of the grand order of folio leviathans, the Sperm Whale and the Right Whal_re by far the most noteworthy. They are the only whales regularly hunted b_an. To the Nantucketer, they present the two extremes of all the know_arieties of the whale. As the external difference between them is mainl_bservable in their heads; and as a head of each is this moment hanging fro_he Pequod’s side; and as we may freely go from one to the other, by merel_tepping across the deck:—where, I should like to know, will you obtain _etter chance to study practical cetology than here?
In the first place, you are struck by the general contrast between thes_eads. Both are massive enough in all conscience; but, there is a certai_athematical symmetry in the Sperm Whale’s which the Right Whale’s sadl_acks. There is more character in the Sperm Whale’s head. As you behold it,
you involuntarily yield the immense superiority to him, in point of pervadin_ignity. In the present instance, too, this dignity is heightened by th_epper and salt color of his head at the summit, giving token of advanced ag_nd large experience. In short, he is what the fishermen technically call a
Let us now note what is least dissimilar in these heads— namely, the two mos_mportant organs, the eye and the ear. Far back on the side of the head, an_ow down, near the angle of either whale’s jaw, if you narrowly search, yo_ill at last see a lashless eye, which you would fancy to be a young colt’_ye; so out of all proportion is it to the magnitude of the head.
Now, from this peculiar sideway position of the whale’s eyes, it is plain tha_e can never see an object which is exactly ahead, no more than he can on_xactly astern. In a word, the position of the whale’s eyes corresponds t_hat of a man’s ears; and you may fancy, for yourself, how it would fare wit_ou, did you sideways survey objects through your ears. You would find tha_ou could only command some thirty degrees of vision in advance of th_traight side-line of sight; and about thirty more behind it. If you_itterest foe were walking straight towards you, with dagger uplifted in broa_ay, you would not be able to see him, any more than if he were stealing upo_ou from behind. In a word, you would have two backs, so to speak; but, at th_ame time, also, two fronts (side fronts): for what is it that makes the fron_f a man— what, indeed, but his eyes?
Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyes are s_lanted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as to produce on_icture and not two to the brain; the peculiar position of the whale’s eyes,
effectually divided as they are by many cubic feet of solid head, which tower_etween them like a great mountain separating two lakes in valleys; this, o_ourse, must wholly separate the impressions which each independent orga_mparts. The whale, therefore, must see one distinct picture on this side, an_nother distinct picture on that side; while all between must be profoun_arkness and nothingness to him. Man may, in effect, be said to look out o_he world from a sentry-box with two joined sashes for his window. But wit_he whale, these two sashes are separately inserted, making two distinc_indows, but sadly impairing the view. This peculiarity of the whale’s eyes i_ thing always to be borne in mind in the fishery; and to be remembered by th_eader in some subsequent scenes.
A curious and most puzzling question might be started concerning this visua_atter as touching the Leviathan. But I must be content with a hint. So lon_s a man’s eyes are open in the light, the act of seeing is involuntary; tha_s, he cannot then help mechanically seeing whatever objects are before him.
Nevertheless, any one’s experience will teach him, that though he can take i_n undiscriminating sweep of things at one glance, it is quite impossible fo_im, attentively, and completely, to examine any two things—however large o_owever small— at one and the same instant of time; never mind if they li_ide by side and touch each other. But if you now come to separate these tw_bjects, and surround each by a circle of profound darkness; then, in order t_ee one of them, in such a manner as to bring your mind to bear on it, th_ther will be utterly excluded from your contemporary consciousness. How i_t, then, with the whale? True, both his eyes, in themselves, mus_imultaneously act; but is his brain so much more comprehensive, combining,
and subtle than man’s, that he can at the same moment of time attentivel_xamine two distinct prospects, one on one side of him, and the other in a_xactly opposite direction? If he can, then is it as marvellous a thing i_im, as if a man were able simultaneously to go through the demonstrations o_wo distinct problems in Euclid. Nor, strictly investigated, is there an_ncongruity in this comparison.
It may be but an idle whim, but it has always seemed to me, that th_xtraordinary vacillations of movement displayed by some whales when beset b_hree or four boats; the timidity and liability to queer frights, so common t_uch whales; I think that all this indirectly proceeds from the helples_erplexity of volition, in which their divided and diametrically opposit_owers of vision must involve them.
But the ear of the whale is full as curious as the eye. If you are an entir_tranger to their race, you might hunt over these two heads for hours, an_ever discover that organ. The ear has no external leaf whatever; and into th_ole itself you can hardly insert a quill, so wondrously minute is it. It i_odged a little behind the eye. With respect to their ears, this importan_ifference is to be observed between the sperm whale and the right. While th_ars of the former has an external opening, that of the latter is entirely an_venly covered over with a membrane, so as to be quite imperceptible fro_ithout.
Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the worl_hrough so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an ear which is smalle_han a hare’s? But if his eyes were broad as the lens of Herschel’s grea_elescope; and his ears capacious as the porches of cathedrals; would tha_ake him any longer of sight, or sharper of hearing? Not at all.—Why then d_ou try to “enlarge” your mind? Subtilize it.
Let us now with whatever levers and steam-engines we have at hand, cant ove_he sperm whale’s head, so, that it may lie bottom up; then, ascending by _adder to the summit, have a peep down the mouth; and were it not that th_ody is now completely separated from it, with a lantern we might descend int_he great Kentucky Mammoth Cave of his stomach. But let us hold on here b_his tooth, and look about us where we are. What a really beautiful an_haste-looking mouth! from floor to ceiling, lined, or rather papered with _listening white membrane, glossy as bridal satins.
But come out now, and look at this portentous lower jaw, which seems like th_ong narrow lid of an immense snuff-box, with the hinge at one end, instead o_ne side. If you pry it up, so as to get it overhead, and expose its rows o_eeth, it seems a terrific portcullis; and such, alas! it proves to many _oor wight in the fishery, upon whom these spikes fall with impaling force.
But far more terrible is it to behold, when fathoms down in the sea, you se_ome sulky whale, floating there suspended, with his prodigious jaw, som_ifteen feet long, hanging straight down at right-angles with his body; fo_ll the world like a ship’s jibboom. This whale is not dead; he is onl_ispirited; out of sorts, perhaps; hypochondriac; and so supine, that th_inges of his jaw have relaxed, leaving him there in that ungainly sort o_light, a reproach to all his tribe, who must, no doubt, imprecate lock-jaw_pon him.
In most cases this lower jaw—being easily unhinged by a practised artist— i_isengaged and hoisted on deck for the purpose of extracting the ivory teeth,
and furnishing a supply of that hard white whalebone with which the fisherme_ashion all sorts of curious articles including canes, umbrella-stocks, an_andles to riding-whips.
With a long, weary hoist the jaw is dragged on board, as if it were an anchor;
and when the proper time comes— some few days after the other work—Queequeg,
Daggoo, and Tashtego, being all accomplished dentists, are set to drawin_eeth. With a keen cutting-spade, Queequeg lances the gums; then the jaw i_ashed down to ringbolts, and a tackle being rigged from aloft, they drag ou_hese teeth, as Michigan oxen drag stumps of old oaks out of wild woodlands.
There are generally forty-two teeth in all; in old whales, much worn down, bu_ndecayed; nor filled after our artificial fashion. The jaw is afterwards saw_nto slabs, and piled away like joists for building houses.