‘Moby Dick’: The Tale of a Whale That May Not Be so Fictional

(Image:  Bjorn via  flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ever since the book Moby-Dick was published in 1851, people have debated whether a sperm whale could actually sink ships using its colossal head as a battering ram.

An international team of researchers led by Dr. Olga Panagiotopoulou from the University of Queensland, have been researching this very theory.

In their research, published in the biological and medical sciences journal, they point out that scientific evidence about the phenomenon remains scarce.

Dr. Panagiotopoulou, who is an expert in the anatomy, bone biology, and mechanics of large animals, including elephants and non-human primates, said in a statement:

In the 19th century a whaler had originally proposed the contentious hypothesis on the battering ram function of the sperm whale head. Dr. Panagiotopoulou adds that the male sperm whale head is much larger than those of the females.

However, in a report from a pilot and conservation researcher, it documented seeing sperm whales ramming while she was flying over the Gulf of California. After receiving the report the researchers were intrigued and fascinated.

Professor David Carrier from the University of Utah said that the sperm whale head had an important role in transmitting sonar clicks and potentially assisting in communication and buoyancy, the University of Queensland wrote.

However, there was still there was no explanation of how a sperm whale head could function as a weapon capable of sinking ships that are four to five times the mass of the whale, he added.

If your interested in the Moby-Dick story, watch this video from the Smithsonian Channel:

The research team, which involved researchers from Australia, the U.K., the U.S., and Japan, used computer models and structural engineering principles to find out how a sperm whale’s head would hold up when ramming objects such as boats.

In the research Dr. Panagiotopoulou was able to show that a whale ramming boats could potentially cause fatal fractures, saying:

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