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New Zealand Tom


New Zealand Tom



New Zealand Tom was a famous bull sperm whale from the 19th century, indirectly referenced in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: 

Chapter 87 "The Grand Armada", Melville mentions, amongst the immense herd, the possibility of an old white bull, like a sacred Siamese elephant.


This sperm whale (sometimes named also NZ Jack) belongs to "the prehistory of the war" as he fought against English whalers in the early 1800 years primarily in Tasman basin.


In 1804, crews of several whalers, amongst them Adonis, lost nine boats very quickly after the beginning of a fight for life, and were obliged to stop the hunt. NZ Tom was eventually killed later, and many harpoons received during various fightings were found in his body. 


Before their arrival, around 1780, he was probably considered as a powerful god by the Maoris, in relation with their mythology: during their migration from the Chinese sea, their ancestors were accompanied and assisted by Tautira Kauika, a huge sperm whale who was the chief of a cetacean army. NZ Tom was easily recognizable as he had a white hump.


Perhaps he has been the hugest of all legendary whales, as he belonged to the geographical variety of largest sperm whales in the world.


These giants were still hunted between 1840 and 1880 years near Solander islands (SW of New - Zealand). Their hunt continued to a lesser scale up to 1960 years, when some big males still exhibited an offensive behaviour toward ships.


Though he has not been directly implicated in the first Pacific war, NZ Tom is perhaps the precursor in some way, as he could have been a mentor for Mocha Dick, commander in chief of sperm whale army during the first Pacific war.


The white "old Tom" mentioned by RW Emerson in 1834 is possibly a confusion between Mocha Dick and NZ Tom, from a second hand witness. This legendary whale was primarily referenced by Thomas Beale, then by Melville. The latter offered him an honorific obituary, as it's convenient for any soldier who has been a battle hero.



NZ Jack



Like Timor Tom, he belongs to the "prehistory" of first Pacific war. Timor Tom was clearly self confident and fearless. Crews of English whaleships thought he always destroyed any boat sent against him.


Perhaps he was finally killed in a battle against a whaling fleet, who found, as wrote Thomas Beale, the contrivance of lashing barrels at the end of harpoons with which he was struck, and while his attention was directed and divided amongst several boats, means were found of giving the raging bull his death wound.


There were probably several sperm whales named "NZ Tom" up to 1860.





Herman Melville drew from multiple references about unusually large, white or aggressive sperm whales for his literary masterpiece, Moby Dick.




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