This is Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).
Vocabulary Words found in this chapter: Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (Vocabulary Words)
This is Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).

Previous Chapter: Moby Dick Chapter 31: Queen Mab (summary)

Before the Pequod meets the great whale in the deep seas, Ishmael discusses some species of whales. But he states that the classifications and science of cetology is a mess, so it is no easy task. 

There are many authorities who admitted that this subject is a torture to them naturalists since it confuses them, too. Fortunately, plenty of authors tried to write books concerning the subject of cetology. 

However, only some of them ever saw living whales; only one of them was a professional harpooneer and whaleman, and that is Captain Scoresby. He is the best authority for the Greenland/Right whale. But he knew nothing and said nothing about the great Sperm whale. 

This made Ishmael object on the fact that the Greenland whale now reigns the seas. The Greenland whale’s nothing compared to the great Sperm whale. Additionally, it is not even the largest of the whales—the Sperm whale is the largest!

Yes, the Greenland whale is just a usurper of the sea-throne. And so Ishmael rightly deposes the Greenland whale and proclaims that the Sperm whale now reigns the seas. 

Only the books of Beale and of Bennett attempted to write about the Sperm whale. Although their information about this whale is brief, it is still reliable and of excellent quality. 

Now, Ishmael offers his outline for the subject, but he promises nothing complete. In 1776 in his System of Nature, Linnaeus wrote that a whale is different from a fish. But down to the year 1850, people consider the whale a fish. 

Linnaeus added: ‘penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem,’ which is translated: ‘The penis enters the female, which gives milk from tits.’ And he also wrote, ‘ex lege naturae jure meritoque,’ which means: ‘From the laws of nature, justly and deservedly.’

Ishmael had sent these words to his friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, his messmates in a certain voyage, on Nantucket. Both of them stated that Linnaeus’ reasons are insufficient, false, and nonsense. 

Nonetheless, Ishmael still classifies the whale as a fish and even mentioned Jonah to support his reasoning. But according to Ishmael, the inner design of the whale differs from other fish. Whales have lungs and are warm-blooded; all other fish are lungless and cold-blooded. Additionally, on the outer design, whales spout and they have horizontal tails; the fish do not spout and they have vertical tails. 

Although many naturalists consider the Lamantins and Dugongs as part of the whale family, Ishmael doesn’t consider them as part of it. And since they’re noisy, contemptible, live in the mouths of rivers, feed on wet hay, and do not spout, they are not part of the Kingdom of Cetology.

Ishmael divides the whales into three primary books, and books into chapters: 


Chapter 1: Sperm whale

Sperm whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).

Actually, this whale is known among the English as the “Trumpa whale,” the “Physeter whale,” and the “Anvil Headed whale”; the “Cachalot” to the French; the “Pottshich” to the Germans; and the “Macrocephalus” to the Long Words. Surely, this whale is the most enormous species in the world and the most valuable in commerce for its spermaceti

Honestly, the name of this whale is ridiculous but it seems to have an etymology. Centuries ago, the spermaceti was accidentally obtained from a stranded Sperm whale. At the same time, the English discovered that the same oil is the Greenland/Right whale’s sperm. 

Also, people don’t use spermaceti for light, but only for ointment and medicament because it was scarce and can only be bought from drugstores. 

Chapter 2: Right whale

Right whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).

This is the most venerable of all whales for it was the first whale to be hunted. Besides, we obtain whalebones/baleens, and oils known as ‘whale oil’ from this whale. 

This whale is also known as: ‘The Whale,’ the ‘Greenland whale,’ the ‘Black whale,’ the ‘Great whale,’ the ‘True whale’, and the ‘Right whale.’ Additionally, it is the Great Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the Greenland Whale of the English whaleman; the Baliene Ordinaire of the French whalemen; and the Growlands Walfish of the Swedes.

Furthermore, the Dutch and the English have hunted this whale centuries ago in the Arctic seas. Also, the Americans have long pursued this whale in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, and on the Nor’ West Coast.

Some say that the Greenland whale is different from the Right whale. But, according to Ishmael, they are identical. 

Chapter 3: Fin Back whale

Fin Back whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary)

This whale, like the previous ones, has various names: “Fin-Back”, “Tall-Spout”, and “Long-John”. It has been present almost in every sea. Compared to the Right whale, the Fin Back whale has a lighter color. And its most obvious feature is its sharp pointed fin, which measures about three or four feet long. 

Moreover, when this fin is seen in very calm waters, it may as well serve as a gnomon with the rippling water surrounding it as the dial. 


Furthermore, this whale lives a solitary life and is not sociable with other whales, which makes it hard for man to hunt. 

Chapter 4: Humpback whale

Humpback whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

Whalers capture and tow these whales into the harbour of the northern American coast. Some call it “Elephant and Castle whale.” Interestingly, it is the most gamesome of all whales. But its oil is not valuable. 

Chapter 5: Razorback whale1identical to the Finback Whale

Finback Whale/Razorback whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

Incidentally, Ishmael saw a Razorback whale at a distance off Cape Horn. Particularly, this whale eludes humans, so he knows very little of this whale. 

Chapter 6: Sulphur Bottom whale2aka Blue Whale

Blue whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

This whale has a brimstone belly. Unfortunately, Ishmael, and even the oldest Nantuckers also knows little about this whale.


Chapter 1: Grampus

Grampus in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

The Grampus has a sonorous breathing and lives in the deep waters. Yet, it is not a whale. But because it spans fifteen to twenty-five feet, and its oil is pretty good for light, most naturalists classify it among the whales. Sailors even consider the Grampus as the mini-Sperm whale.

Chapter 2: Black Fish3Pilot Whale

Black Fish/Pilot Whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

Ishmael himself suggests to call this whale the “Black fish”. But some call it the “Hyena whale” because of its voracious appetite and also grins. And because this whale is about sixteen to eighteen feet in length, you can collect about thirty gallons of its cheap oil. 

Chapter 3: Narwhale

Narwhal in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

This is also known as the “Nostril whale”, and called the “Tusked whale”, the “Horned whale”, and the “Unicorn whale.” It has a clear and fine but so little oil so it’s rarely hunted. Its body scales about sixteen feet, while its horn exceeds from five to fifteen feet. Noticeably, its lengthened tusk is placed on the left side of the animal. 

Generally, many don’t know what this ivory horn is for. The Narwhale doesn’t even use it like how the swordfish and billfish use it. But some sailors had once told Ishmael that these whales use it to rake the seafloor to find food. Charley Coffin wrote that they use it to break into the ice.

And because they call it the “Unicorn whale”, ancient people used to think that its horn is used to make antidotes. Additionally, people also use its horn to make smelling salts

On the return of Sir Martin Frobisher from a voyage, he bends his knees in front of Queen Bess of the Greenwich Palace, presenting a long horn of the Narwhale. Afterwards, they hung it in the castle at Windsor. Likewise, Earl of Leicester presented another horn to her Highness on bended knees.

Chapter 4: Killer

Killer whale in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

Naturalists and Nantucketers know little about this whale because whalers don’t hunt them. But from what Ishmael had seen of it at a distance, it’s length measures about as long as the Grampus whale. 

Chapter 5: Thrasher4probably the Killer Whale, mistaken as a separate species in the North Atlantic.

Thrasher/Killer whale's tail in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary
Killer whale’s tail.

This whale is famous for its ferule-like tail, which uses it for thrashing its enemies. It mounts the larger whales’ back and then works his way by flogging the bigger whale. Sadly, they know little of this whale.


Since the word “whale” always conveys the idea of hugeness, it may be strange for many to consider the following species as whales. But note that all of these spout and have a horizontal tail, so they belong to the whale family.

Chapter 1: Huzza Porpoise5Bottlenose Dolphin

Huzza Porpoise/Bottlenose Dolphins in Moby Dick Chapter 32 Summary

Ishmael himself named this porpoise “Huzza” because it always swims in hilarious shoals. Moreover, this porpoise is vivacious, full of delight and spirit.

A well-fed, plump Huzza porpoise can give you a gallon of good oil. In addition to that, jewellers and watchmakers request the fine and delicate fluid extracted from its jaws. Also, sailors put this fluid on their whetstones. Porpoise meat is good, too. 

Honestly, the porpoise’s spout is hard to see but it actually has one. When you watch this species closely, it will look like a miniature of the Sperm whale.

Chapter 2: Algerine Porpoise6Pygmy Killer Whale

Algerine Porpoise/Pygmy Killer whale

This porpoise is very savage. Try to provoke it, and it will turn into a shark. Ishmael never saw it captured. It is a little larger than the Huzza porpoise and can be found in the Pacific. 

Chapter 3: Mealymouthed Porpoise7Southern Right Whale Dolphin

Mealymouthed Porpoise/Southern Right Whale Dolphin

It is the largest kind of porpoise and found in the Pacific. It is also known as the “Right whale Porpoise”. In shape, it’s less rounded than the Huzza Porpoise. But unlike the other porpoises, it has no fins, which makes it neater. And it has a lovely tail and Indian eyes of a hazel hue. 

Its upper body is color black; its lower body colored white. Consequently, it looks like it has escaped from felony to a meal-bag. 

The outline of Ishmael’s Cetology ends here. He didn’t mention all the whale species. But he lets the future investigators study and finish what he has started. 

End of Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).

Next Chapter: Moby Dick Chapter 33: The Specksynder (summary)

End of Moby Dick Chapter 32: Cetology (summary).

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