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Mocha Dick

Mocha DickThe fictitious story of Moby Dick can be found in the historical/legendary Mocha Dick, an authentic sperm whale first sighted in 1810.  In that year, a giant bull sperm whale with an eight-foot long white scar across its head attacked at whaleboat near Mocha Island, off the coast of Chile.  Although many tales and embellishments were told of Mocha Dick, in 1840 the whale was sighted some 215 miles off the coast of Valparaiso.  The crew of the Desmond saw a lone, 70-foot whale breach its full length, and then set in pursuit.  Mocha Dick smashed the lead boat into kindling, and then sounded.  When the second boat went to pick up the survivors, Mocha Dick surfaced and smashed it as well.  Two men were never recovered.  In 1842, Mocha Dick attacked a schooner off the coast of Japan.  As three whaleships drew near, Mocha Dick dove beneath the waves for 20 minutes.  When he surfaced, one of the six whaleboats in pursuit harpooned him.  The whalers waited five minutes before approaching the inert whale, for as soon as they did, Mocha Dick sprang to life and smashed several of the boats before attacking the whale ship Creiff.  When Mocha Dick was finally killed in 1859, he carried 19 irons in his side, “mementos of more than 100 battles in which at least 30 men had been killed and scores of whaleboats destroyed”.

Mocha Dick became the basis for Melville’s Moby Dick, a sperm whale endowed with fantastic attributes, all of which were based on reality.  All of Moby-Dick can be seen as an accurate depiction of 19th century whaling; its work, its men, and the dangers involved.  Melville turned the whaling industry into a morality play.  Ishmael is the everyman observer.  “Ishmael assumes three personae: the ‘unlettered’ sailor who democratically celebrates the common-men of ‘the fishery’; the prophet/bard who sings the tragedy of Ahab; and the pedantic scholar/natural historian whose voice often undercuts the ‘unlettered’ one”.

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