In the 1851 novel by Herman Melville, which kind of whale is Moby Dick?

And the answer: sperm whale.

Photo credit: Getty Images/ZU_09. 

American author Herman Melville named Moby Dick after Mocha Dick, a real life albino male sperm whale that lived near Mocha Island, off the coast of Chile. Mocha Dick fought off whalers for decades before being killed by a harpoon.  

Though Moby Dick is a fictionalized whale with a mind of his own, sperm whales are quite intelligent – and real – forces to be reckoned with. Some 60 million years ago, these mammals left the land for the depths of the sea, where they have since remained. All of our knowledge about these massive creatures is learned during their short periods of time spent close to the surface, yet many unanswered questions remain.

Sperm whales have the largest brain of any organism on Earth, past or present. They spend two-thirds of their life in the deep ocean (as opposed to more shallow waters), presumably hunting or mating, though scientists are still unsure. These massive creatures communicate with a series of clicks that can be heard from as far as 6 miles away.

Sperm whales only raise one calf every three to five years. At birth, a sperm whale calf already weighs 5 tons, and gains about 100 kilos a day. And for the first five years of its life, the calf relies entirely on its mother, unable to hunt.

Every spring, many sperm whales travel to summer hunting grounds off the coast of Norway. Although it remains unknown to this day where and how these creatures navigate the vast ocean, during their migration, the males travel over 3,000 miles in just three months. It's one of the greatest navigational feats in the animal kingdom.

Learn more about the past whaling industry, the mystifying characteristics of sperm whales, and more about their environments below.

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