On such a day… the Sperm whale


Figure taken from “Moby-Dick”, di Herman Melville, 1851.

On such a day – very much such a sweetness as this – I struck my first whale – a boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty, forty, forty years ago! – ago! Forty years of continual whaling! Forty years of privation, and peril, and stormtime! Forty years on this pitiless sea! For forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horror of the deep!”, with these words captain Ahab, the protagonist of Moby Dick, the masterpiece of the American literature by Herman Melville, recalls the epic of whaling in which he was involved as well as many other men in the 1800s, especially Americans. Moby Dick, the white whale, was a sperm whale. And this was the most hunted species because of spermaceti, the whale oil obtained from its large head – one third of the total body length in adult specimens – from which come the common and scientific name of the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

At the beginning of the walk on so-called  ”Capodoglio Beach”

On such a day as today (May 1, 2014), unusually grey and chilly for the first of May, so different from captain Ahab’s mild day, thirty and not forty years ago – it was the morning of May 1, 1984 – an 11-metre-long adult sperm whale male stranded in Silvi, on the beach called Capodoglio Beach (Sperm whale Beach) after it. After several attempts to save the animal made by many people from Silvi, the cetacean disappeared alive beyond the horizon. Two days later it was found dying on the beach between Francavilla and Ortona. Today the whole skeleton is kept but not yet exposed in the Pescara’s Museum of the Marine Wonders still under refurbishment. The Torre del Cerrano Marina Protected Area, which did not exist at the time of stranding, celebrated the memorable event of thirty years ago with a walk, led by the Cerrano Guides Alberto and Mario, from Capodoglio Beach, today within the marine reserve, to the Cerrano Tower and its small Museum of the Sea. At the end of the walk, the participants listened to the testimonies of Mauro Pacchione, sub and Cerrano Guide, Mr. Vittorio Scordella, President of Silvi’s Association Fratello Mare, who both took part to the rescue operation that day, and the veterinary Vincenzo Olivieri, President of the non-profit Association Centro Studi Cetacei and Director of the Pescara’s Museum of the Marine Wonders, who carried out the analysis on  the carcass and the conservation the skeleton.

During the necropsy of the beached sperm whale, Dr Olivieri found many plastic bags in the prestomach of the animal, a large calibre bullet in the blubber near the blowhole and very high rates of mercury in the liver. In spite of the efforts made that day to bring it back to the open sea, the cetacean died for causes related to those human actions which have a more or less direct impact on the other living beings, even as big as whales.

Despite the tragic ending for the animal, the 1984’s stranding proved that we humans are prone to defend Nature when it is endangered, the same Nature that we too often endanger. This is the profound moral of the Sperm whale’s day.

Mario Cipollone