# .. +lt; chapter ciii 10 MEASUREMENT OF THE WHALE'S SKELETON +gt; In the first place, I wis

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.. < chapter ciii 10  MEASUREMENT OF THE WHALE'S SKELETON >

In the first
place, I wish to lay before you a particular, plain statement, touching the
living bulk of this leviathan, whose skeleton we are briefly to exhibit.
Such a statement may prove useful here.  According to a careful calculation I
have made, and which I partly base upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of
seventy tons for the largest sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length;
according to my careful calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of the largest
magnitude, between eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and something less
than forty feet in its fullest circumference, such a whale will weigh at
least ninety tons; so that reckoning thirteen men to a ton, he would
considerably outweigh the combined population of a whole village of one
thousand one hundred inhabitants.  Think you not then that brains, like yoked
cattle, should be put to this leviathan, to make him at all budge to any
landsman's imagination?  Having already in various ways put before you his
skull, spout-hole, jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts,
I shall now simply point out what is most interesting in the general bulk of
his unobstructed bones.  But as the colossal skull embraces so very large a
proportion of the entire extent
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of the skeleton; as it is by far the most complicated part; and as nothing
is to be repeated concerning it in this chapter, you must not fail to carry
it in your mind, or under your arm, as we proceed, otherwise you will not
gain a complete notion of the general structure we are about to view.  In
length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured seventy-two feet; so
that when fully invested and extended in life, he must have been ninety feet
long; for in the whale, the skeleton loses about one fifth in length
compared with the living body.  Of this seventy-two feet, his skull and jaw
comprised some twenty feet, leaving some fifty feet of plain back-bone.
Attached to this back-bone, for something less than a third of its length,
was the mighty circular basket of ribs which once enclosed his vitals.  To me
this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved spine, extending far
away from it in a straight line, not a little resembled the hull of a great
ship new-laid upon the stocks, when only some twenty of her naked bow-ribs are
inserted, and the keel is otherwise, for the time, but a long, disconnected
timber.  The ribs were ten on a side.  The first, to begin from the neck, was
nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth were each successively
longer, till you came to the climax of the fifth, or one of the middle ribs,

which measured eight feet and some inches.  From that part, the remaining
ribs diminished, till the tenth and last only spanned five feet and some
inches.  In general thickness, they all bore a seemly correspondence to their
length.  The middle ribs were the most arched.  In some of the Arsacides they
are used for beams whereon to lay foot-path bridges over small streams.  In
considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with the circumstance,

so variously repeated in this book, that the skeleton of the whale is by no
means the mould of his invested form.  The largest of the Tranque ribs, one
of the middle ones, occupied that part of the fish which, in life, is greatest
in depth.  Now, the greatest depth of the invested body of this particular
whale must have been at least sixteen feet; whereas, the corresponding rib
measured but little more than eight feet.  So that this rib only conveyed half
of the true notion of the living
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magnitude of that part.  Besides, for some way, where I now saw but a naked
spine, all that had been once wrapped round with tons of added bulk in flesh,
muscle, blood, and bowels.  Still more, for the ample fins, I here saw but a
few disordered joints; and in place of the weighty and majestic, but boneless

flukes, an utter blank!  How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid
untravelled man to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely
poring over his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood.
no.  only in the heart of quickest perils; only when within the eddyings of
his angry flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea, can the fully invested
whale be truly and livingly found out.  But the spine.  For that, the best way
we can consider it is, with a crane, to pile its bones high up on end.  No
speedy enterprise.  But now it's done, it looks much like Pompey's Pillar.
There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are not
locked together.  They mostly lie like the great knobbed blocks on a Gothic
spire, forming solid courses of heavy masonry.  The largest, a middle one, is
in width something less than three feet, and in depth more than four.  The
smallest, where the spine tapers away into the tail, is only two inches in
width, and looks something like a white billiard-ball.  I was told that there
were still smaller ones, but they had been lost by some little cannibal
urchins, the priest's children, who had stolen them to play marbles with.
Thus we see how that the spine of even the hugest of living things tapers off
at last into simple child's play.
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank