Ishmael describes some of the last stages of the whale hunt and butchering: pouring off the extracted oil into casks and stowing them in the hold.
It’s strange, Ishmael tells us, that for a day or two while the whale is being butchered, the entire ship seems covered in oil and bits of whale; but as soon as the oil is stowed, the deck is scrubbed incredibly clean (and the oil helps with this scrubbing) and the ship seems almost like an ordinary merchant ship.
The sailors even joke about starting to put in nice furnishings.
Of course, it seems like they’ve just barely gotten the deck scrubbed, the soot brushed out of the sails, and the casks stored when they sight another whale and go off on the hunt again, ready to drench the deck in blood and oil yet once more.
This cycle, Ishmael admits, is either depressing, symbolic, or both.