Tag Archives: Moby-Dick

Whalemen’s natural history observations and the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World

Seaman Dean C. Wright drew this profile view of a sperm whale in his journal kept onboard the ship Benjamin Rush of Warren, Rhode Island, 1841-1845. KWM #A-145

Seaman Dean C. Wright drew this profile view of a sperm whale in his journal kept onboard the ship Benjamin Rush of Warren, Rhode Island, 1841-1845. KWM #A-145

Apart from the specific species that they were targeting during the hunt, whalemen were generally poor observers of wildlife. Sperm whales, right whales, bowhead whales, their habits, habitats and general appearance were commonly understood at a commercial level but only a few whalemen made any attempt to systematically identify other species of whales or small cetacea. Blackfish (Globicephala melas, the long-finned pilot whale) are an exception as these were also frequently hunted and whalemen had the opportunity to observe both their behavior and anatomy closely.

Third mate Warren D. Maxfirld drew these views of a pilot whale and a rightwhale dolphin in his journal kept onboard the bark Chili of New Bedford, 1856-1860. KWM #49

Third mate Warren D. Maxfirld drew these views of a pilot whale and a rightwhale dolphin in his journal kept onboard the bark Chili of New Bedford, 1856-1860. KWM #49

At the very least whalers were inconsistent in whatever observations they may have made.[1] This is not to say that whalemen didn’t see an astonishing array of the world’s species, just that their interests were almost wholly commercial and only rarely systematic. The whales, birds and other cetaceans illustrated and described in Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World are no exception. Obviously, frequent mentions are made in seamen’s logbooks and journals noting a wide variety of birds, fish and whales but seldom are these animals illustrated, and even more rarely are they either named or described in any useful way. Vernacular, seemingly random, and completely unsystematic terms are commonly employed to which none but a whaler can relate.

Scene described as "brig in a school of porpoises," from Purrington & Russell's Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, 1848.

Scene described as “brig in a school of porpoises,” from Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, 1848.

Detail of unidentified small cetaceans from the Panorama.

Detail of unidentified small cetaceans from the Panorama.

For instance, this particular scene in the Panorama is described in the handbill text as “brig in a school of porpoises.” By no stretch of the modern imagination could the animals painted in this scene be described as “porpoises,” yet whalemen commonly applied the term to any number of small cetaceans. Modern descriptions of the porpoises (Phocoenidae) describe them as small, blunt-headed and coastal; “preferring to keep to themselves, porpoises are typically shy creatures and rarely perform the acrobatic feats of dolphins.”[2] The only species of porpoise common to the Cape Verde archipelago is the harbor porpoise, (Phocoena phocoean) a small, blunt-nosed creature. However, even with their pointed snouts, a hint of a dorsal fin, a large aggregation and fairly acrobatic portrayal of behavior, one would be hard-pressed to say what exactly Purrington and Russell intended these animals to be.

Edwin N. Clark, first mate onboard the bark Two Brothers of New Bedford drew this view of two "algerines" in the logbook of the voyage, 1856. ODHS #572

Edwin N. Clark, first mate onboard the bark Two Brothers of New Bedford drew this view of two “algerines” in the logbook of the voyage, 1856. Apart from their generally pointed snouts, the only other prominent anatomical feature is the dorsal fin, a feature common to many dolphin species. ODHS #572

They are obviously some type of cetacea, probably of the dolphin tribe, possibly of the sort called “algerines,” or “algerine porpoises” by the whalemen. The animals in the picture also greatly resemble members of the beaked whale tribe of the sort sometimes called the “grampus” by whalers. The region where this scene took place was in the North Atlantic Ocean off the Cape Verde Islands. These waters are home to a wide variety of oceanic dolphins (Delphinidae) however current habitat projection maps do not suggest that any species of beaked whales (Ziphiidea) live in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands. Recent observations (2010, 2014) have placed small groups of at least two species of beaked whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) and Gervais’ beaked whale (Mesoplodon cf. europaeus) around the waters off Cape Verde, but these are confirmed as rarities.[3] Dolphins are another matter. Bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, spotted dolphins, striped dolphins and spinner dolphins all live in these waters, are socially gregarious and acrobatic in their behavior. That, combined with the use of the whaler’s term “porpoise” suggests that these animals are probably dolphins.

Seaman Thomas White onboard the bark Sunbeam of New Bedford, 1856, drew these views of whalemen harpooning dolphins from a large school swimming about the ship. Whalemen ate dolphins and would capture them at every opportunity. KWM #436

Seaman Thomas White onboard the bark Sunbeam of New Bedford, 1856, drew these views of whalemen harpooning dolphins from a large school swimming about the ship. Whalemen ate dolphins and would capture them at every opportunity. Like other whalers, White calls them “porpoises.” These particular animals are about the size of a man and are obviously frolicking in the water in a large, social school. KWM #436

One solid advantage to the relational usage of the term “porpoise” is that most whalemen used the term to describe the multitudes of dolphins encountered in large schools on the high seas. Further, as beaked whales seldom congregate in social schools gamboling about in the waves, the likelihood is very strong that Purrington and Russell accurately described the behavior of a school of dolphins.

Probably the best single synopsis of whalemen’s vernacular language describing the various whales and small cetaceans encountered is from Moby-Dick. A selection of these can be read in Chapter 32, “Cetology, ” with the following caveats:

  1. There was at the time of its writing considerable inconsistency in the naming of cetacean species and popular language swapped around between actual species as far as Linnaean nomenclature could identify them and mariner’s usage.
  2. Melville as a whaleman himself adopted whalemen’s usage.
  3. Melville was mocking the books of science written by persons with no firsthand knowledge of what it was they were describing.

He writes in the first part of that chapter: “of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty.” He then goes on the arrange his classifications and subdivisions similarly to the table of contents of Robert Hamilton’s “On the Ordinary Ceacea, or Whales,” in William Jardine’s Naturalists Library, as well as John Hunter’s “Observations on the structure and œconomy of whales” in Philosophical Transactions of London (June 28, 1787); that is Roman numeral, genus, species. Being the satirist that he was though, instead of even attempting to sound “scientific,” Melville makes up these foolish categories of whale species compared to the sizes of books, presumably representing the varieties in size of the very books he consulted, hinting that books are the sole source of knowledge of cetacean, and that whalemen, while seeing most of the animals in question could not properly identify most of them. Dolphins and porpoises are not distinguished and just because Melville calls it a porpoise does not mean that it is one. Numerous whaling references, including early 20th century photographs identify dolphins as porpoises and we know that whalers lowered for dolphins as well as harpooned them from the bows of the ship for food.

Seaman John Martin drew this superb view of a Rightwhale dolphin (Lissodelphis peronei), what he calls a "Right Whale Porpoise" in his journal kept onboard the ship Lucy Ann of Wilmington, Delaware, 1841-1845. KWM #434

Seaman John Martin drew this superb view of a Rightwhale dolphin (Lissodelphis peronii), what he calls a “Right Whale Porpoise” in his journal kept onboard the ship Lucy Ann of Wilmington, Delaware, 1841-1845. KWM #434

Sulphur bottom – Undoubtedly Balænoptera musculus (Blue whale) as verified in Charles M. Scammon’s Marine mammals of the Northwestern coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874)  and Hershkovitz, Catalog of Living Whales (Washington, 1966). The “Great Northern Rorqual” of Jardine/Hamilton (PH 5190-A) is derived from the two 1827 prints of the blue whale that stranded at Ostend, Belgium  which was in large measure copied in 1832 for another print.

Killer/Thrasher – Undoubtedly Orcinus orca. In the text of Jardine/Hamilton under the entry for “The Grampus” is the following: “Finally it is the fish which the Americans have long been in the habit of denominating the killer or thrasher, from its reputed pugnacious and cruel disposition.”

Seaman Joseph Bogart Hersey drew this view of a killer whale in his journal kept onboard the bark Samuel & Thomas of Provincetown, 1846-1848. KWM #364

Seaman Joseph Bogart Hersey drew this fine view of a killer whale in his journal kept onboard the bark Samuel & Thomas of Provincetown, 1846-1848. KWM #364

As this entry mentioning “thrasher” serves as the only reference that I have ever seen (including logbook and journal references to killers) I suspect that Melville either legitimately heard this phrase used in the fishery or, what is more likely, borrowed it from Jardine/Hamilton. Please note that Melville separates “killers” from “grampus.” What was meant by the whalemen’s term of “grampus” is difficult to determine. Sometimes in the whalemen’s writings it seems to refer to the killer or orca, other times, the killer is distinct and the grampus is also distinct. Jardine/Hamilton’s illustration of “The Grampus” is obviously an orca. Grampus griseus or Risso’s Dolphin is the only official appearance of the term grampus. The only actual illustration of the grampus of whalemen’s parlance is from KWM #1033, a journal kept by seaman Daniel C. Whitfield onboard the bark Dr. Franklin of Westport, 1856-1859. It is obviously a beaked whale of some kind.

Seaman Daniel C. Whitfield wrote exemplary and rare descriptions of a number of whale species. Almost uniquely, Whitfield drew and defined the creature known to whalemen as the "Grampus." It is an almost perfect outline of Cuvier's beaked whale. This species has the widest known distribution of any beaked whale.

Seaman Daniel C. Whitfield wrote exemplary and rare descriptions of a number of whale species in his journal kept onboard the bark Dr. Franklin of Westport, 1853-1855. Almost uniquely, Whitfield drew and defined the creature known to whalemen as the “Grampus.” It is a near-perfect outline of Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). This species has the widest known distribution of any beaked whale, and if the grampus was actually the beaked whale, as Whitfield suggests, then whaling logbooks and journals can provide valuable information about the distribution and common sightings of these pelagic animals. While the Dr. Franklin cruised primarily in the Atlantic Ocean, Whitfield describes a number of species from his experiences on other whales in other oceans. KWM #1033.

Huzza porpoise – Probably Lagenorhynchus obliquidens of Scammon, the striped or common porpoise. Scammon’s text description coincides well with Melville’s the difference being that Melville claims that they are found “almost all over the globe,” whereas this particular animal is a Pacific species. Apart from that the striped dolphin or common dolphin is the most likely candidate being gregarious and global.

Algerine porpoise – Completely unidentifiable. Whaling logbooks and journals frequently mention them although they are seldom illustrated (ODHS#572, September 22, 1859). Chances are good that they are one of the many species of larger dolphins, such as Tursiops truncatus, the bottle nose dolphin.

Mealy-mouthed porpoise – Undoubtedly the Southern right whale dolphin, Lissodelphis peronii .

While the bulk of American whalemen did not record their observations of sea creatures, some did. Those few who did actually identify species in a useful fashion have contributed some important clues to understanding the prolific life of the oceans. Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama was intended to be educational entertainment, but for all that, it serves today as an important document serving to offer insights into the world as witnessed by American mariners. Whether or not the artists captured the true nature of marine life, they absolutely captured the significance of the American whalemen to the growing understanding of the world and its seas in the 19th century.

[1] Thomas Beale, The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (Edinburgh, 1839); William Scoresby, An Account of the Arctic Regions (Edinburgh, 1820); Charles Melville Scammon, The Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874) are notable exceptions. These books, written by whalemen are all superb natural history texts, illustrated accurately with a wide variety of species and other documentary pictures. The average whalemen produced nothing even remotely as insightful as these.

[2] Mark Carwardine, Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (New York and London, 1995).

[3] Hazevoet, Monteiro, et al. “Recent data on whales and dolphins (Mammalia: Cetacea) from the Cape Verde Islands, including records of four taxa new to the archipelago,” Zoologia Caboverdiana 1 (2) 2010: 75-99

20th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon

The 20th anniversary of the Moby-Dick Marathon was indeed a celebration of America’s greatest novel, of New Bedford’s place in whaling and industrial history, of shared heritage, and of Irwin Marks’ vision of a community event that would include readers of varied backgrounds. Our readers came from a dozen different states and from the Netherlands, our Livestream feed was followed in 26 different countries, including New Zealand and Zimbabwe, our foreign language readers added French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese to the reading, and two dozen hearty souls stayed for the entire Marathon. The second Children’s mini-Marathon kicked off with teenagers from Iceland joining us via Skype to read in their native tongue before a full roster of our own young readers read through the abridged version of Moby-Dick. The Maratona de Moby-Dick em Lingua Portuguêsa, a new event this year, was a great success that featured 46 ‘leitores’ reading from Tiago Patricio’s four-hour adaptation of the Portuguese translation of Moby-Dick. The ‘Chat with a Melville Scholar’ sessions attracted more than 40 people to each session and Michael Dyer’s presentation on the new exhibition Mapping Ahab’s Storied Waves was given to a full gallery. The Cook Memorial Theater was filled to capacity to watch Culture*Park enthusiastically act out Chapter 40, Midnight – Forecastle.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

We were thrilled to have Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Why Read Moby-Dick? and several other great stories, start the Marathon for us as Ishmael. We were honored to have three of Irwin Marks’ children, David, Rebecca and Esther, along with Rebecca’s husband, Alban, join us in the Bourne Building, in the shadow of the Lagoda, where the entire Marathon took place for the first five years under Irwin’s guiding hand, to read from chapters two and three.  We were humbled by both the full-audience singing of The Ribs and Terrors in the Whale, led by Gerald Dyck, Dwight Thomas and several docents, and by the words of Father Mapple’s sermon orated by Reverend David Lima.

Our new Harbor View Gallery (HVG) was showcased over the weekend as the primary site for the reading. The view of New Bedford Harbor from this gallery created a new connection to the setting of the story. For many of our readers, spectators and supporters it was their first visit to the HVG and the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center (WJEC). The first floor of the WJEC, the Casa dos Botes Discovery Center, became Cousin Hosea’s Chowder Hall, where participants could enjoy chowder and soup donated by four local restaurants and sip some coffee and have a snack.

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery (Arthur Motta/NBWM Photo)

But, the 20th anniversary was more than the reading and associated events that took place on Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10. We began the four days of celebration on Thursday, January 7, by unveiling a stunning photography exhibit by award-winning photographer Nuno Sá, from Portugal. Nearly 200 people filled the Jacobs Family Gallery with their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as they viewed his vivid photos of marine life in the waters around the Azores. They then packed the Cook Memorial Theater to hear Mr. Sá’s presentation and see more of his impressive photos on the big screen.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum's Azorean Whaleman Gallery.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum’s Azorean Whaleman Gallery. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

The next night began with a cocktail reception in the JFG before we moved upstairs to the former Center Street Gallery to watch the dedication of the space as it officially became The Herman Melville Room. Members of the Melville Society Cultural Project spoke on the gallery and their partnership with the Museum, before they cut the ribbon to formalize the process.

After the ribbon cutting, guests walked into the new building to check out the exhibit, In the Heart of the Sea, featuring costumes from the film of the same name before gathering in the Harbor View Gallery for a delicious dinner. Diners were then treated to an engaging presentation by our own Arthur Motta, titled “Moby-Dick: How Hollywood Changed New Bedford”.

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta photo)

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

We are grateful to the sponsors, watch officers, volunteers, trustees, readers, spectators, supporters, media outlets, staff and apprentices who made this series of events possible. Of course, we are most grateful to the late Irwin Marks for his vision and dedication, and to the volunteers in 1996 who also believed in this concept, that made this event a reality.  As popular as the event was that first year, we think he would be truly impressed with the reach of the Moby-Dick Marathon after 20 years. It has become as global as the whaling industry itself.

Right Whales Through the Eyes of Herman Melville

The following post is part of a series of blogs created for the Face-ing Extinction: The North Atlantic Right Whale page on Facebook. Three organizations (WDC, ASRI, NBWM) from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium meet monthly to create and update right whale related curriculum, discuss important issues related to the NARW and devise ways to bring awareness to the precarious status of the population of this highly endangered species. The FB page is a result of these meetings.

Because the Whaling Museum hosted the 19th annual Moby-Dick Marathon earlier this month, it was deemed appropriate to weave Eubalaena glacialis and Herman Melville together, something he first did in 1851. However, in 2015, it has been done in a more contemporary form of print media.

Two North Atlantic right whales. (nmfs.noaa.gov photo)

Two North Atlantic right whales. (nmfs.noaa.gov photo)

When Moby-Dick was published in 1851, confusion still existed as to which whales were Right whales and which were later to be known as Bowhead whales. In Chapter 32, Cetology, Melville attacks the topic of whale taxonomy like a librarian, splitting up the whales based on size. Thus, the known whales were split into three groups: Folio Whales, Octavo Whales and Duodecimo Whales.

Our whale is considered as Chapter 2 of the Folio Whales and is called a Right Whale. “In one respect this is the most venerable of the Leviathans, being the one first regularly hunted by man. It yields the article commonly known as whalebone or baleen; and the oil specially known as “whale oil”, an inferior article in commerce.”

However, it becomes clear immediately that there is confusion as to which whale he is trying to describe, “Among the fishermen, he is indiscriminately designated by all the following titles: The Whale; the Greenland Whale; The Black Whale; The Great Whale; the True Whale; the Right Whale. There is a deal of obscurity concerning the identity of the species thus multitudinously baptized. What then is the whale, which I include in the second species of my Folios? It is the Great Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the Greenland Whale of the English whalemen; the Baliene Ordinaire of the French whalemen; The Growlands Walfish of the Swedes.”

The text that follows makes it clear that rights and bowheads are being conflated, “It is the whale which for more than two centuries past has been hunted by the Dutch and English in the Arctic seas; it is the whale which the American fishermen have long pursued in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, on the Nor’ West Coast, and various other parts of the world, designated by them Right Whale Cruising Grounds.”

Later in the story in Chapter 58, Brit, however, there is no confusion as to which species they see while sailing north east of the Crozetts (small islands directly south of Madagascar). “On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who, secure from the attack of a sperm whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws sluggishly swam through the brit, which, adhering to the fringing fibres of that wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that manner separated from the water that escaped at the lip.”

Two paragraphs later he captures the experience of most people the first time they see any species of right whale in the water, “Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they paused and were stationary for a while, their vast black forms looked more like lifeless masses of rock than anything else….And when recognized at last, their immense magnitude renders it very hard really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can possibly be instinct, on all parts, with the same sort of life that lives in a dog or a horse.”

Melville later dedicates an entire chapter, #75, to describing the head of a right whale. “So, at a broad view, the Right Whale’s head bears a rather inelegant resemblance to a gigantic galliot-toed shoe.”

Luckily the science of cetacean taxonomy has come a long way since the mid -1800s and there’s no confusion as to which whales are Eubalaena glacialis and which are Balaena mysticetus.  We have also long settled the discussion as to whether or not whales are fish. Just before he dives into his book-focused classification of cetaceans, Melville states, “To be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail.”

There are many intentionally funny moments in Moby-Dick. This one was not written to be humorous, but has become quite laughable. That being said, Moby-Dick has stood the test of time to become one of the humankind’s classic stories. It has put whales in the consciousness of thousands of people, including those who attend the Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon each January. Perhaps some of you will join us at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2016.

Moby-Dick and Modern America: A Summer Reading Course

One of the best things about a good book is that it can be read at any time of year, at any time of day, and it will draw you in. Sure, a book like White Fang may have even greater impact if you read it on cold winter nights. You may feel the dusty Alabama setting of To Kill A Mockingbird even more if you read it during a hot, dry summer. Yet, these are compelling stories no matter when you read them. The same can be said for Moby-Dick.

Many of you know that we choose to hold our Moby-Dick Marathon in January because it was January of 1841 when Herman Melville sailed out of New Bedford harbor on the whaleship Acushnet. However, there are Moby-Dick reading marathons in other cities that happen throughout the year. It’s a great book, to many, the greatest novel ever. The season in which you read it isn’t particularly important.

In that vein, former NBWM curatorial intern Evander Price, now a doctoral student in Harvard’s American Studies program, is looking to connect high school students to Moby-Dick after their school year is over.  This summer, he is teaching a high school course on Moby-Dick through MIT’s intensive summer program, Junction, which aims to provide intense, college-level academic courses for high school students.  He invites any brave green whalers who might be interested aboard his literary ship.  Applications are due April 10th, though late applications will be accepted up until May (precise date TBD).  See course description below, and on Junction’s website.


Title: Moby-Dick and Modern America


“I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as a lamb.”

–Melville in a Letter to Hawthorne, July 1851

This class is an introduction to Herman Melville’s famous epic, Moby-Dick; we will read the book in its entirety.  This course explores a wide range of subjects, such as: philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, World/American/Scientific/Maritime history, art, mythology (Greek and otherwise), cetology, geography, popular art/ culture, justice, poetry, environmentalism, etymology, civilization, savagery, Shakespeare, heroism, war, nothingness, evil, darkness, hell, the abyss, god, death, race, religion, monstrousness, genius, madness, wisdom, ethics, eschatology and some slice of the complexity of existence within the human condition.

We will embark on this literary ship of the past as it winds its way from the world’s beginning to the present day, beginning at page one with Ishmael, a young man who, contemplating suicide, instead decides to commit himself to sea.  You can expect to finish this class with no answers, but rather, a firm grasp of the magnitude of the questions.  You can expect to improve enormously as a reader, to be mind-blown, blubber-brained, and equipped with a whole new set of philosophical and analytical tools to approach any daunting work of great literature you may read in the future.  Have no fear: we will work together as a crew to harpoon this evil epic.  Join me on a whaling voyage around the world!

Moby-Dick the Reptile

Our Moby-Dick Marathon may be done for 2013, but the influence of the story and its eternally metaphorical whale continue.  A recently discovered species of unpigmented skink, in the island country of Madagascar, is being nicknamed the Moby Dick mermaid skink. However, nicknames / common names, often change from language to language. For example, what we call cod, the Portuguese call bacalhau, the French call morue and the Norwegians call torsk. What doesn’t change is the scientific name. For the cod, that would be Gadus morhua. This new skink will forever have the white whale’s moniker attached to it no matter what language is used. It has been given the scientific name Sirenoscincus mobydick.  I’d like to thank Brandon Walecka for sending this story from Cosmos magazine to us.

This may be the first scientific name to include Moby-Dick. But, it’s not the first to include something from Herman Melville. There is a recently discovered species of fossil (and fearsome) sperm whale that in 2010 was given the name Livyatan melvillei. If you sound out the genus name, you’ll understand why the name was chosen…and that taxonomists have a sense of humor. Case in point, the scientific name for the blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus. This can translate into muscular winged whale. It can also translate into winged whale mouse.

Moby-Dick Marathon reader call-in, Nov. 12

The 17th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon is scheduled for January 5-6, 2013 and all those interested in reading are invited to contact the museum, starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday, November 12. Call (508) 717-6851 or email: mdmarathon@whalingmuseum.org to request a 7-10 minute reading slot. Be sure to provide your full name and preferred reading time as well as two alternate times.

Every January, the world’s largest whaling museum marks the anniversary of Herman Melville’s 1841 whaling voyage from New Bedford with a 25-hour nonstop reading of America’s greatest novel – Moby-Dick. The weekend includes three days of activities, January 4-5-6, 2013, including a ticketed buffet dinner and lecture on Friday evening.

A midwinter tradition, the marathon attracts hundreds of readers and listeners from around the world. The reading begins at noon on Saturday, January 5 and finishes at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 6. Snow and cold will not stop this literary happening. Come at any time; leave at any time, or stay 25 hours and win a prize!

For more information, contact: Robert C. Rocha, Jr. Science Director: (508) 997-0046, ext. 149,  rrocha@whalingmuseum.org

3 exhibit openings in November share maritime themes

“White Island Lighthouse,” Harry Neyland, 1906, is one of several works by famous local artists in “Celebrating Generosity: Gifts from the Eliot S. Knowles Collection.”

Three new exhibitions premiere simultaneously in November at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The exhibits, titled Celebrating Generosity: the Eliot S. Knowles Collection, Among the Waves and Amid the Vortex; Paintings by Jason Hancock, and Signifying the Whale; a crowd-sourced exhibit from the digital realm, opens to the public Nov. 2.

Peggy Rodgers, Judith N. Lund, Ph.D., and Mary Jean Blasdale, Chair of the Collections Committee, are guest-curators of Celebrating Generosity.

Eliot Stetson Knowles (1916-2002), became the thirteenth president of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1973 after serving six years as its treasurer. His leadership and generosity is celebrated in a new exhibition of works, which he and his wife, artist Betty Kirkendall collected over decades. Theirs grew to be the largest private collection of art of the New Bedford region, including such well-known artists as William Bradford, William Allen Wall, Clement Nye Swift, Charles H. Gifford, and Harry Neyland.

Opening concurrently, an exhibition by contemporary artist, Jason Hancock, titled Among the Waves and Amid the Vortex, takes visual elements from Moby-Dick to create a series of new paintings that express the turbulent nature of the whaling seas. Capped by sunrise and sunset upon the ocean, Hancock’s work examines the parameters of opposites and excess.

Harold Davis dubbed his photo of a wet cyclamen “Moby Dick” because the flower looked to him like the white whale. Davis’ work and many others are part of a crowd-sourced digital exhibition titled “Signifying the Whale.” (© Harold Davis)

Curated by Michael A. Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives, the third exhibit, titled Signifying the Whale evolved from the Museum’s 2003 Whaling History Symposium presentation by Zubeda Jalalzai and Jason Fiering entitled Wayside Whaling. In it, they investigated the connections between popular icons in contemporary New Bedford, its once dominant but now defunct whaling industry and the enduring language of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale The new exhibit, which follows in the path of two former museum exhibitions, Imagining Moby and Visualizing Melville, is an invitation to discover the leviathan, through imagery and words… wherever it can be found.

A photo group within the website Flickr expands into this exhibit and the public is invited to participate by posting images of “signified” (symbolic), or artistically rendered whales to the image pool. Actual whale photos will be excluded.

This crowd-sourced exhibition will continually expand with images in the Flickr pool, ultimately joining the exhibit, which will be administered by museum curators and updated weekly.

“Vortex (Dusk) Number One” by Jason Hancock

Anyone may submit an image. Email to web@whalingmuseum.org . The Museum will post contributed images to its Flickr photo group with credit and copyright pointing back to creators.

The Futurity of the Whale, “Moby-Dick Big Read”

Thanks to Dr Philip Hoare for providing this blog post about Moby-Dick Big Read. He is artist-in-residence at the Marine Institute, Plymouth University, UK and author of The Whale (Ecco), winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Posted today, Chapter 30, The Pipe, as read by David Cameron. Download all the chapters or listen online.

This project is a great kick-start for our own Moby Dick Marathon. Mark November 12 on your calendar, it is “Reader Call-In Day”. Send an email to mdmarathon (at) whalingmuseum.org or call (508) 717-6851 to request a reading slot.

Moby-Dick, published in 1851, is acknowledged as the greatest American novel.   A century and a half later, art and science still has to catch up with it.  Herman Melville prophesied an age in which man’s abuse of nature would lead to problems for both human and cetaceans.  That intense sense of contemporary relevance – the delayed-effect impact of the book – prompted Angela Cockayne and I, as curators of the Moby-Dick Big Read for Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, UK, to create an online rendition of the book.  Above all, we were inspired by the world famous New Bedford Whaling Museum’s marathon reading of the book.

Our readers include Tilda Swinton, Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow, John Waters, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nathaniel Philbrick, Chad Hardbach, Caleb Crain, Andrew Delbanco and Mary Oliver.  But as well as these celebrated names, we invited readings from the general public in the democratic spirit of the project – from schoolchildren to fishermen.  And rather than have a blank web page whilst listening to these chapters, we expanded the project to include images from international contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor, Mark Wallinger, George Shaw, Dexter Dallwood, Gavin Turk, Zaha Hadid, Susan Hiller, Dorothy Cross and Antony Gormley, many of whom have created new works specifically for the project.

I like to think Herman Melville would have approved of this British exposition of his extraordinary work.  After all, the novel was partly conceived during Melville’s visit to London in 1849.  He stayed in rooms on Craven St, next to  Charing Crossstation – the house is now marked by a blue plaque.  And for reasons of copyright (which did not then exist in the US), his book, entitled The Whale, was also first published in Britain by Richard Bentley, in a deluxe, three-volume edition for the carriage trade.

Craven Street, London

Famously, the book did not fare well on its transition across the Atlantic.  The American first edition never sold out and Melville died in 1891, his genius unacknowledged.  Here too we British may lay claim to reviving Moby-Dick’s reputation.  In the 1920s, writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W.H.Auden and E.M.Forster acclaimed Moby-Dick as a modernist work before modernism was invented.

How amazed Melville would be to find out far his work has lodged in our modern culture, both high and low.  Moby-Dick remains firmly in the zeitgeist.  Kraken-tattooed and buff science-fiction writer, China Mieville’s latest book, Railsea, riffs on the subject, while director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is working on a movie version of Moby-Dick set in outer space.  And every high street has reminder of Melville’s masterpiece named after Captain Ahab’s first mate – Starbuck.  There, sipping your latte, you may check another, aural reference: pop star Moby, real name Richard Melville Hall, is named after the book written by his great-great uncle, Herman.  Word is that Moby-Dick is Barack Obama’s favourite book; also Morgan Freeman’s; and Woody Allen confesses to being a recent convert.

And the reverberations of Melville’s text continue, not least in the way it raised questions of imperialism, fundamentalism, morality and faith.  When it was published, shortly before the American Civil War, it was a coded comment on the internecine conflict over slavery (most especially via the indirect inspiration of Frederick Douglass, whom Melville may, or may not, have met in New Bedford’s streets).  More recently, it was cited by Edward Said in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when the writer compared the ‘war on terror’ as an impossible pursuit, like the captain’s demonic hunt for the White Whale.  Nor could you ignore its relevance today.  Witness this quote from Chapter One, ‘Loomings’:

Grand contested Election for the Presidency of the United States



I’m delighted to join the New Bedford Whaling Museum – global home of the back-story to Melville’s extraordinary work – in bringing Moby-Dick into the digital age.  After all, Melville’s book, with its unedited, digressive and allusive prose, resembles nothing so much as a modern blog.  The famous ‘Extracts’ that precede his main text have the air of a Victorian search engine.  And if he were writing his book today, I don’t think Herman would have ever finished it: he’d be forever googling ‘Whale’.

Whaling Museum to Participate in 15th Anniversary of New Bedford National Whaling Historical Park

The corner of William St and Johnny Cake Hill. The two buildings in the foreground occupy what is now the Whaling Museum plaza. Join us here on Saturday afternoon as we celebrate the National Park’s 15th birthday.  Photo from NBWM archives.

This is a family-friendly event coordinated by the Whaling History Alliance to honor Congressman Barney Frank and the late Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy.

In conjunction with the National Park’s 15th Anniversary celebration of our downtown park, the New Bedford Whaling Museum will host free activities between the hours of 2:30 and 5 p.m.

On the Museum plaza:

Harpoon challenge. Practice to become a harpooner. Guests are invited to try their hand at throwing a kid-safe harpoon through a target.

Scrimshaw. It may not be legal to carve on sperm whale teeth in 2012, but you can use soap, shoe polish and a carving stick to create your own masterpiece to take home.

Pequod. Make a floating model of the famous whale ship from ‘Moby-Dick’.

Jacobs Family Gallery

Voyage Around the World.  Join Museum docents for experiential activities to highlight the common thread of history that connects New Bedford with Alaska and Hawai’i.

Cook Memorial Theater

Experience a staged reading of ‘Moby-Dick’ with the Boston Experimental Theatre Company. Join the imaginary voyage aboard the Pequod with Captain Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg and the rest of the crew as they pursue an infamous white whale across the treacherous waters of the globe.  Meet the characters, share their perils and immerse yourself in the beauty and harshness of Melville’s finely drawn portrait of a doomed whaling expedition.

This new script is an adaptation from Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick.  After the reading, there will be a talk back session with BETC. Feedback, questions and impressions are welcome.  (This staged reading precedes a full production to be performed in Boston in January by the members of BETC.)

In addition to the free activities listed above, the Whaling Museum will offer (BOGO) buy one, get one free admission for the day.

Whaling Museum & Zeiterion launch “Moby!” partnership

Whaling Museum & Zeiterion  launch “Moby!” partnership

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center and the New Bedford Whaling Museum have announced a coordinated partnership designed to heighten New Bedford’s profile as a cultural and historical destination utilizing “Moby-Dick” as a universal identifier for the city in a four-month program titled “Moby!”.

The partnership between two of New Bedford’s leading cultural institutions will focus on author Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, “Moby-Dick,” considered the greatest work in American literature. During four months of related programs and activities, “Moby!” will encompass the many facets of Melville’s creation, spanning whaling history, literature, theater, and popular culture.

“Moby!” Schedule:

Wednesday, October 19
Moby! Preview: “Why Read Moby-Dick?”
Lecture and book signing with Nathaniel Philbrick. Free. Sponsored by Baker Books.

Thursday, November 3
Welcome Reception for the Mayor of Youghal, County Cork, Ireland.
Zeiterion Performance Center, 6:00 p.m.

Film Screening: “Moby Dick” (1956) Starring Gregory Peck, Directed by John Huston.
Zeiterion Performance Center, 7:00 p.m.

Friday, November 4
Exhibit opening of “Imagining Moby!”
New Bedford Whaling Museum, 5:00 p.m.
An exhibit including original works by Leonard Baskin, Richard Ellis & Rockwell Kent demonstrating the ways artists have explored aspects of this great American novel.

Stage Performance “Moby Dick” by Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland.
Zeiterion Performance Center, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 5
Moby! Cartoon Festival
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Cook Memorial Theater, New Bedford Whaling Museum
A children’s film festival of animated films inspired by Moby-Dick, including an animated puppet version, a Spanish version, and others.  Free.

Stage Performance “Moby Dick” by the Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland.
3:00 p.m. Matinee, Zeiterion Performance Center

Moby! Memorabilia Exhibitions
5:00 p.m., Cook Memorial Theater, New Bedford Whaling Museum

The Mayor of Youghal will present a slide show of pictures from the filming of Moby-Dick in Ireland in 1955.  The Whaling Museum and the Zeiterion will present an exhibit on memorabilia from the New Bedford World Premiere of “Moby Dick” on June 26, 1956. Free.

Stage Performance “Moby Dick” by Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland.
Zeiterion Performance Center, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, November 14
Moby-Dick Marathon Reader Call-in Day
Anyone may call in to request an 8-10 minute reading slot, beginning at 12:01 a.m. Be sure to give us three alternative times when you could read. Call 508-997-0046 x151.

Friday, January 6
Moby-Dick Marathon Preview
5:30 p.m. Pre-Marathon Buffet Dinner & cash bar
7:15 p.m. Museum Theater, Free Pre-Marathon Lecture: “Moby-Dick in American Popular Culture” with Melville scholar, Dr. Timothy  W. Marr. After Nov. 15, call 508-997-0046 ext. 100 to purchase tickets for the buffet dinner. The lecture is free.

Saturday, January 7
“Stump the Scholars!”
10:00 a.m., Cook Memorial Theater
As a prelude to the Moby-Dick, Marathon, the Museum hosts a truly Melville-centric event along the same lines as National Public Radio’s popular program, “Wait, wait, don’t tell me.” You will have the opportunity to quiz Melville Society scholars on all matters Moby-Dick and Melville. No questions are too tough. Free.

Saturday, January 7
16th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon
Noon, New Bedford Whaling Museum
The Moby-Dick Marathon kicks off the non-stop reading of the great American classic. Come at any time; leave at any time. All are welcome to this 25-hour event commemorating the anniversary of 21-year old Herman Melville’s voyage from New Bedford harbor aboard the whale ship Acushnet in 1841. Free.

February 22-25
“Moby-Dick” the Opera
Whaling Museum Members’ Trip to the West Coast to see the critically acclaimed new opera by Jake Heggie, “Moby Dick,” at the San Diego Opera House. Join the Whaling Museum for three days of activities, VIP receptions, and a visit to the San Diego opera to see their premier of Moby Dick! Contact Alison Smart for more details: (508) 997-0046 ext. 115 or asmart@whalingmuseum.org

For more information, contact:

Arthur Motta
Director, Marketing & Communications
New Bedford Whaling Museum
(508) 997-0046, ext. 153

Rosemary Gill
Assistant Director
Zeiterion Performing Arts Center
(508) 997-5664

Twitter hash-tag #MobyNB