Chapter 87 The Grand Armada

        We leave our anatomical studies to get a little geography lesson. The Pequod has sailed ever eastward since that Christmastime departure from Nantucket, and it is about to leave the Indian Ocean to enter the China seas. This it will accomplish by threading its way through the Straits of Sunda, which separate the islands of Sumatra and Java. These exotic Indonesian names evoke exotic images -- especially "that bold green promontory -- Java Head". Melville takes the opportunity to inform us that Captain Ahab will not touch land here -- or anywhere else. Unlike merchant ships carrying much cargo but scant supplies, a whaleship is so well provisioned with food and water that it need not stop for such. "Clear old prime Nantucket water" is extolled as the drink of preference for a three-years-out crew in the Pacific.

        The Pequod is in the vicinity of the peninsula of Malacca (modern Malaysia) where the Malay pirates originate. Upon exiting the Sunda strait, a boatload of Malay pirates tries to accost it, but they are easily outrun by the ship, crowding all sail, running grandly before the wind. As they leave the pirates behind, a huge herd of sperm whales is descried on the horizon. "And who could tell whether, in that congregated caravan, Moby Dick himself might not be temporarily swimming, like the worshipped white elephant in the coronation procession of the Siamese! So with stun-sail piled on stun-sail (a studding sail is an extension sail temporarily connected to the end of a spar to catch more wind) we sailed along driving these Leviathans before us."

        By 1850, the persistent hunting and killing of sperm whales had actually changed the behaviour of this species, as H.I.M. explains: "But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity with which of late they have been hunted over all four oceans [Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic], the Sperm Whales, instead of almost invariably sailing in small detached companies as in former times, are now frequently met with in extensive herds, sometimes embracing so great a multitude, that it would almost seem as if numerous nations of them had sworn solemn league and covenant for mutual assistance and protection. To this aggregation of the Sperm Whale into such immense caravans, may be imputed the circumstance that even in the best cruising grounds, you may now sail for weeks and months together without being greeted by a single spout -- and then be suddenly saluted by what sometimes seems thousands on thousands."

        There were so many whales to be harpooned, that the Pequod's crew resorted to the use of "druggs". These are squares of wood attached to the harpoon line that a harpooned whale must tow through the water until tired out. Melville claims that these druggs were invented by Nantucket Indians, but historical research casts doubt on this. The whales in the herd were "gallied" [an Old English word meaning frightened and upset] by all of the killing and drugging, except for those way away into the center. This prompts Ishmael to confide, "But even so amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still forever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy."

        With all the whales in the herd, yet only one drugged and waifed whale was captured. A waifed whale is a dead whale with a flag stuck in it, so as to identify its "owner".