That for six thousand years—and no one knows how many millions of age_efore—the great whales should have been spouting all over the sea, an_prinkling and mistifying the gardens of the deep, as with so many sprinklin_r mistifying pots; and that for some centuries back, thousands of hunter_hould have been close by the fountain of the whale, watching thes_prinklings and spoutings— that all this should be, and yet, that down to thi_lessed minute (fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o’clock P.M. of thi_ixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851), it should still remain a problem,
whether these spoutings are, after all, really water, or nothing bu_apor—this is surely a noteworthy thing.
Let us, then, look at this matter, along with some interesting item_ontingent. Every one knows that by the peculiar cunning of their gills, th_inny tribes in general breathe the air which at all times is combined wit_he element in which they swim; hence, a herring or a cod might live _entury, and never once raise its head above the surface. But owing to hi_arked internal structure which gives him regular lungs, like a human being’s,
the whale can only live by inhaling the disengaged air in the open atmosphere.
Wherefore the necessity for his periodical visits to the upper world. But h_annot in any degree breathe through his mouth, for, in his ordinary attitude,
the Sperm Whale’s mouth is buried at least eight feet beneath the surface; an_hat is still more, his windpipe has no connexion with his mouth. No, h_reathes through his spiracle alone; and this is on the top of his head.
If I say, that in any creature breathing is only a function indispensable t_itality, inasmuch as it withdraws from the air a certain element, which bein_ubsequently brought into contact with the blood imparts to the blood it_ivifying principle, I do not think I shall err; though I may possibly us_ome superfluous scientific words. Assume it, and it follows that if all th_lood in a man could be aerated with one breath, he might then seal up hi_ostrils and not fetch another for a considerable time. That is to say, h_ould then live without breathing. Anomalous as it may seem, this is precisel_he case with the whale, who systematically lives, by intervals, his full hou_nd more (when at the bottom) without drawing a single breath, or so much a_n any way inhaling a particle of air; for, remember, he has no gills. How i_his? Between his ribs and on each side of his spine he is supplied with _emarkable involved Cretan labyrinth of vermicelli-like vessels, whic_essels, when he quits the surface, are completely distended with oxygenate_lood. So that for an hour or more, a thousand fathoms in the sea, he carrie_ surplus stock of vitality in him, just as the camel crossing the waterles_esert carries a surplus supply of drink for future use in its fou_upplementary stomachs. The anatomical fact of this labyrinth is indisputable;
and that the supposition founded upon it is reasonable and true, seems th_ore cogent to me, when I consider the otherwise inexplicable obstinacy o_hat leviathan in having his spoutings out, as the fishermen phrase it. Thi_s what I mean. If unmolested, upon rising to the surface, the Sperm Whal_ill continue there for a period of time exactly uniform with all his othe_nmolested risings. Say he stays eleven minutes, and jets seventy times, tha_s, respires seventy breaths; then whenever he rises again, he will be sure t_ave his seventy breaths over again, to a minute. Now, if after he fetches _ew breaths you alarm him, so that he sounds, he will be always dodging u_gain to make good his regular allowance of air. And not till those sevent_reaths are told, will he finally go down to stay out his full term below.
Remark, however, that in different individuals these rates are different; bu_n any one they are alike. Now, why should the whale thus insist upon havin_is spoutings out, unless it be to replenish his reservoir of air, er_escending for good? How obvious it is it, too, that this necessity for th_hale’s rising exposes him to all the fatal hazards of the chase. For not b_ook or by net could this vast leviathan be caught, when sailing a thousan_athoms beneath the sunlight. Not so much thy skill, then, O hunter, as th_reat necessities that strike the victory to thee!
In man, breathing is incessantly going on—one breath only serving for two o_hree pulsations; so that whatever other business he has to attend to, wakin_r sleeping, breathe he must, or die he will. But the Sperm Whale onl_reathes about one seventh or Sunday of his time.
It has been said that the whale only breathes through his spout-hole; if i_ould truthfully be added that his spouts are mixed with water, then I opin_e should be furnished with the reason why his sense of smell seem_bliterated in him; for the only thing about him that at all answers to hi_ose is that identical spout-hole; and being so clogged with two elements, i_ould not be expected to have the power of smelling. But owing to the myster_f the spout—whether it be water or whether it be vapor—no absolute certaint_an as yet be arrived at on this head. Sure it is, nevertheless, that th_perm Whale has no proper olfactories. But what does he want of them? N_oses, no violets, no Cologne-water in the sea.
Furthermore, as his windpipe solely opens into the tube of his spouting canal,
and as that long canal—like the grand Erie Canal— is furnished with a sort o_ocks (that open and shut) for the downward retention of air or the upwar_xclusion of water, therefore the whale has no voice; unless you insult him b_aying, that when he so strangely rumbles, he talks through his nose. But the_gain, what has the whale to say? Seldom have I known any profound being tha_ad anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something b_ay of getting a living. Oh! happy that the world is such an excellen_istener!
Now, the spouting canal of the Sperm Whale, chiefly intended as it is for th_onveyance of air, and for several feet laid along, horizontally, just beneat_he upper surface of his head, and a little to one side; this curious canal i_ery much like a gas-pipe laid down in a city on one side of a street. But th_uestion returns whether this gas-pipe is also a water-pipe; in other words,
whether the spout of the Sperm Whale is the mere vapor of the exhaled breath,
or whether that exhaled breath is mixed with water taken in at the mouth, an_ischarged through the spiracle. It is certain that the mouth indirectl_ommunicates with the spouting canal; but it cannot be proved that this is fo_he purpose of discharging water through the spiracle. Because the greates_ecessity for so doing would seem to be, when in feeding he accidentally take_n water. But the Sperm Whale’s food is far beneath the surface, and there h_annot spout even if he would. Besides, if you regard him very closely, an_ime him with your watch, you will find that when unmolested, there is a_ndeviating rhyme between the periods of his jets and the ordinary periods o_espiration.
But why pester one with all this reasoning on the subject? Speak out! You hav_een him spout; then declare what the spout is; can you not tell water fro_ir? My dear sir, in this world it is not so easy to settle these plai_hings. I have ever found your plain things the knottiest of all. And as fo_his whale spout, you might almost stand in it, and yet be undecided as t_hat it is precisely.
The central body of it is hidden in the snowy sparkling mist enveloping it;
and how can you certainly tell whether any water falls from it, when, always,
when you are close enough to a whale to get a close view of his spout, he i_n a prodigious commotion, the water cascading all around him. And if at suc_imes you should think that you really perceived drops of moisture in th_pout, how do you know that they are not merely condensed from its vapor; o_ow do you know that they are not those identical drops superficially lodge_n the spout-hole fissure, which is countersunk into the summit of the whale’_ead? For even when tranquilly swimming through the mid-day sea in a calm,
with his elevated hump sun-dried as a dromedary’s in the desert; even then,
the whale always carries a small basin of water on his head, as under _lazing sun you will sometimes see a cavity in a rock filled up with rain.
Nor is it at all prudent for the hunter to be over curious touching th_recise nature of the whale spout. It will not do for him to be peering int_t, and putting his face in it. You cannot go with your pitcher to thi_ountain and fill it, and bring it away. For even when coming into sligh_ontact with the outer, vapory shreds of the jet, which will often happen,
your skin will feverishly smart, from the acridness of the thing so touchin_t. And I know one, who coming into still closer contact with the spout,
whether with some scientific object in view, or otherwise, I cannot say, th_kin peeled off from his cheek and arm. Wherefore, among whalemen, the spou_s deemed poisonous; they try to evade it. Another thing; I have heard i_aid, and I do not much doubt it, that if the jet is fairly spouted into you_yes, it will blind you. The wisest thing the investigator can do then, i_eems to me, is to let this deadly spout alone.
Still, we can hypothesize, even if we cannot prove and establish. M_ypothesis is this: that the spout is nothing but mist. And besides othe_easons, to this conclusion I am impelled, by considerations touching th_reat inherent dignity and sublimity of the Sperm Whale; I account him n_ommon, shallow being, inasmuch as it is an undisputed fact that he is neve_ound on soundings, or near shores; all other whales sometimes are. He is bot_onderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of al_onderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante,
and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the ac_f thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, _ad the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflecte_here, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over m_ead. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, afte_ix cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seem_n additional argument for the above supposition.
And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behol_im solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhun_y a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, an_hat vapor— as you will sometimes see it—glorified by a rainbow, as if Heave_tself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For d’ye see, rainbows do not visi_he clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mist_f the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindlin_y fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts;
many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubt_f all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; thi_ombination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regard_hem both with equal eye.