Is There Any Truth to the Story of “Moby-Dick”?

Dutch sailors recently filmed a rare white sperm whale, like the one in “Moby-Dick,” off the coast of Jamaica.
Dutch sailors recently filmed a rare white sperm whale, like the one in “Moby-Dick,” off the coast of Jamaica.

It may be fiction, but Moby-Dick is no fish story. The bigger-than-life adventure novel by Herman Melville concerns a vengeful ship captain seeking the massive white whale that took one of his legs. But while Captain Ahab might be an exaggeration, it seems that the whale isn't.

In November 2021, sailors aboard a gas tanker near Jamaica beheld a beast similar in size, color, and power to the great white whale from the classic 1851 novel. White sperm whales are extremely rare, so the sighting was a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, rather than throwing a harpoon like Ahab would have done, the ship's captain, Leo van Toly, grabbed his camera to get a short video of the sighting.

According to scientists, white whales get their lack of color from an inability to produce the pigment melanin. Before 2021, it had been six years since a documented sighting of a white whale had occurred.

Whale wonders:

  • Blue whales are believed to be the largest animals ever to exist on Earth, reaching lengths of 110 feet (34 meters) and weights of 209 tons (189,602 kg).

  • Migrating humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere survive for months on their fat reserves.

  • Orcas are also called killer whales, but they aren't whales: They're dolphins.

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    • Dutch sailors recently filmed a rare white sperm whale, like the one in “Moby-Dick,” off the coast of Jamaica.
      Dutch sailors recently filmed a rare white sperm whale, like the one in “Moby-Dick,” off the coast of Jamaica.