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

"Moby-Dick," while a work of fiction, is steeped in Herman Melville's real-life experiences at sea and the historical accounts of colossal whales. Its vivid portrayal of whaling reflects authentic practices and maritime lore of the 19th century. But how much does it mirror true events? Join us as we unveil the reality behind this literary leviathan.

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. Rather than a harpoon like Ahab would have preferred, 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. Until 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 190 tons (172,365 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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