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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Cetology

Cetology Quotes (2 quotes)

It is some systematised exhibition of the whale in his broad genera, that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task. The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid down.
“No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology,” says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.
“It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the inquiry as to the true method of dividing the cetacea into groups and families. * * * Utter confusion exists among the historians of this animal” (sperm whale), says Surgeon Beale. A. D. 1839.
“Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters.” “Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the cetacea.” “A field strewn with thorns.” “All these incomplete indications but serve to torture us naturalists.”
Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and Lesson, those lights of zoology and anatomy. Nevertheless, though of real knowledges there be little, yet of books there are plenty; and so in some small degree, with cetology, or the science of whales. Many are the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen, who have at large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a few:— The Authors of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir Thomas Browne; Gesner; Ray; Linnæus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green; Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson; Marten; Lacépède; Bonneterre; Desmarest; Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier; John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale; Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and the Rev. T. Cheever. But to what ultimate generalising purpose all these have written, the above cited extracts will show.
Of the names in this list of whale authors, only those following Owen ever saw living whales; and but one of them was a real professional harpooner and whaleman. I mean Captain Scoresby.
Opening of Chap. 32, 'Cetology', in Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 126-127.
Science quotes on:  |  Aristotle (174)  |  Authority (99)  |  Bible (100)  |  Sir Thomas Browne (23)  |  Captain (16)  |  Cetacean (3)  |  Chaos (97)  |  Classification (99)  |  Confusion (60)  |  Baron Georges Cuvier (34)  |  Family (96)  |  Genus (26)  |  Group (79)  |  Harpoon (2)  |  Historian (58)  |  John Hunter (8)  |  Carolus Linnaeus (34)  |  Sir Richard Owen (17)  |  Pliny the Elder (18)  |  Professional (73)  |  Surgeon (64)  |  Task (148)  |  Whale (40)  |  Whaleman (2)  |  Zoology (37)

The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnæus declares, “I hereby separate the whales from the fish.” But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shads, alewives and herring, against Linnæus’s express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.
The grounds upon which Linnæus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: “On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem,” and finally, “ex lege naturæ jure meritoque.” I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.
In Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 128-129.
Science quotes on:  |  Eyelid (2)  |  Fish (125)  |  Heart (232)  |  Humbug (6)  |  Carolus Linnaeus (34)  |  Lung (36)  |  Mammal (41)  |  Whale (40)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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