In disposing of the body of a right whale, when brought alongside the ship, the same preliminary proceedings commonly take place as in the case of a sperm whale; only, in the latter instance, the head is cut off whole, but in the former the lips and tongue are separately removed and hoisted on deck, with all the well known black bone attached to what is called the crown-piece. But nothing like this, in the present case, had been done. The carcases of both whales had dropped astern; and the head-laden ship not a little resembled a mule carrying a pair of overburdening panniers.
Meantime, Fedallah was calmly eyeing the right whale’s head, and ever and anon glancing from the deep wrinkles there to the lines in his own hand. And Ahab chanced so to stand, that the Parsee occupied his shadow; while, if the Parsee’s shadow was there at all it seemed only to blend with, and lengthen Ahab’s. As the crew toiled on, Laplandish speculations were bandied among them, concerning all these passing things.
The Sperm Whale’s Head — Contrasted View
Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let us join them, and lay together our own.
Of the grand order of folio leviathans, the Sperm Whale and the Right Whale are by far the most noteworthy. They are the only whales regularly hunted by man. To the Nantucketer, they present the two extremes of all the known varieties of the whale. As the external difference between them is mainly observable in their heads; and as a head of each is this moment hanging from the Pequod’s side; and as we may freely go from one to the other, by merely stepping across the deck:—where, I should like to know, will you obtain a better chance to study practical cetology than here?
In the first place, you are struck by the general contrast between these heads. Both are massive enough in all conscience; but, there is a certain mathematical symmetry in the Sperm Whale’s which the Right Whale’s sadly lacks. 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 pervading dignity. In the present instance, too, this dignity is heightened by the pepper and salt color of his head at the summit, giving token of advanced age and large experience. In short, he is what the fishermen technically call a “grey-headed whale.”
Let us now note what is least dissimilar in these heads— namely, the two most important organs, the eye and the ear. Far back on the side of the head, and low down, near the angle of either whale’s jaw, if you narrowly search, you will at last see a lashless eye, which you would fancy to be a young colt’s eye; so out of all proportion is it to the magnitude of the head.