Study Guide

Moby-Dick Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

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Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

  • Ishmael tells the reader that, according to Captain Scoresby, the largest Greenland whale on record was about 70 tons and 60 feet long.
  • Ishmael calculates that the largest Sperm Whales are 85-90 feet long and nearly 40 feet around, and probably weigh at least 90 tons.
  • The skeleton of the sperm whale possessed by Ishmael’s friend Tranquo was about 72 feet long and Ishmael estimates that the complete whale was probably 90 feet long when it was alive.
  • Ishmael surveys the whale’s ribs, noting that they don’t encompass the same amount of bulk that he thinks the living animal would have—where the ribs are 8 feet apart, Ishmael assumes the whole whale would have been 16 feet thick. Sounds a little fishy (ha!) to us.
  • Ishmael realizes that the dead skeleton alone doesn’t convey the whale’s real nature—only facing it in the battle of the hunt can do that.
  • Surveying the whale’s spine, Ishmael notices how the gigantic monster tapers off into tinier and tinier pieces… hmm, maybe that’s a metaphor of some kind.

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