I’m still slogging my way through Moby Dick. I’m currently on ch. 105, so I only have 30 chapters left to read. It may be the most overwrought book I have ever read, and I am flabbergasted that high school kids could work their way through this thing, or that teachers would want them to. The science is out of date, and most of the book purports to be a scientific study of whales. It no doubt says more about me than it does by the book, but I am mystified by the thought that this is an American classic.
Anyway, in ch. 105 Melville wonders, in passing, whether we might overhunt the whale. His answer is naively amusing.
But you must look at this matter in every light. Though so short a period ago – not a good lifetime – the census of the buffalo in Illinois exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present day not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region; and though the cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whales for forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically stated.
So there you have it. This time it’s different. We could never hunt the sperm whale to near extinction.