Real-Life Whale That Inspired ‘Moby-Dick’ Also Has a Pretty Funny Name
This weekend, literary fans will descend upon the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the annual Moby-Dick marathon, with Orange Is the New Black star Taylor Schilling headlining the list of those taking a turn at reading aloud a chapter of Herman Melville’s masterpiece.
Did you know, though, that Moby-Dick was partially inspired by a real-life giant white whale with a similar-sounding name?
Mocha Dick was a real-life 70-foot albino sperm whale that allegedly did battle with 100 whaling ships before finally being killed in 1838. He was called “Mocha Dick” because he was first discovered near Mocha Island, off the coast of Chile.
Explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds wrote about Mocha Dick in in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker magazine, referring to Mocha Dick as “white as wool” and that his head was covered in barnacles.
Reynolds wrote that Mocha Dick was first discovered in 1810 and did battle with about 100 ships over the next 28 years, destroying 20 of them, before he was finally taken down for good – at which time, Reynolds wrote, he had 20 harpoons in his back from previous failed attempts.
It was said that Mocha Dick’s body yielded about 100 barrels of oil. A normal sperm whale only yielded about 40-50 barrels of oil, so that gives you a sense just how big Mocha Dick was in comparison to the rest of his species.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Melville was known to have read Reynolds’ Knickerbocker article, and at least some of it had to have influenced his creation of Moby Dick.
Mocha Dick also would make a really interesting name for a dessert at a New Bedford restaurant, if anyone is brave enough to put it on their menu.