Because of the name of the English ship, Ishmael is set to thinking of the history of whaling, its future, and various physical aspects of the sperm whale. He himself has dissected a baby sperm and once studied the skeleton of a mature whale when he visited one of the Arsacides islands in the southwestern Pacific.
The history of whaling is always important to Ishmael, as is cetology. Again, he wants his audience to take these topics seriously and to place the story of the Pequod in their context. The English ship, which is just fading from sight, reminds him of its namesake, Samuel Enderby, a London merchant whose whaling house, in 1775, fitted out the first English ships that regularly hunted the sperm whale. Americans, notably from Nantucket, had been active in the business since 1726. Years after the gam just discussed, Ishmael visits the Samuel Enderby, enjoying plentiful food and drink — another indication that Ishmael will survive this story.
The narrator wants us to understand the enormity of the whale hunt and the leviathan itself. He transcribes an impressive list of supplies for whaling ships. In his own experience, he has dissected a baby sperm whale and closely studied a whale skeleton used as a shrine by aborigines in the Arsacides. Ishmael even had the measurements of that skeleton tattooed on his arm lest he forget! While he respects many aspects of cetology, he is skeptical about reports of whales that supposedly reached more than 700 feet in length. He thinks the world's largest whales live in his time, are about ninety feet long, and weigh more than ninety tons. Ishmael doubts that whales will ever become extinct, although he realizes that the buffalo have in some parts of North America. Whales, he says, have the advantage of living in vast oceans; man will never be able to hunt most of them down. As we now realize, Ishmael fails to anticipate the advance of technology, which has put sperm and other whales very much at risk in modern times.
decanter a decorative glass bottle, generally with a stopper, for serving wine.
omniscient knowing all things.
The Arsacides Pacific atolls near the southern tip of the Solomon Islands.
fallacious erroneous, misleading, containing a fallacy (a mistaken idea, an error in reasoning, etc.).