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Whaling shipwreck found in Hawaii linked to Moby-Dick

Whaling shipwreck: A shipwreck discovered in Hawaii is believed to be the second whaling ship the real-life Capt. Ahab sailed after the famous sperm whale sank his first ship. The remains of the whaling shipwreck are to be displayed in Hawaii, and may travel to Nantucket, where the real Capt. Ahab lived.

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While the sperm whale attack inspired Melville to write "Moby-Dick," the author isn't believed to have used Pollard as the basis for the book's notorious Capt. Ahab.

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Melville actually didn't meet Pollard until about a year after his novel was published, some three decades after Two Brothers sank. Philbrick said the meeting left a strong impression on the author, whose creation hadn't been an immediate critical or commercial success.

"He was a man who had the worst cards possible dealt to him but was continuing on with nobility and great dignity," Philbrick said. "He is the anti-Ahab. Ahab is enlisting the devil and whatever to fulfill his crackpot schemes. Pollard was someone who had seen the worst but was quietly going about his life with the utmost humility."

The Two Brothers wrecked in water only 10 to 15 feet deep, and would have likely been stripped clean had it wrecked closer to a populated area. But the isolation of French Frigate Shoals means the site has been untouched.

"We had the opportunity to find something that's probably as close to being a time capsule as we could get," Gleason said.

The Two Brothers was like other New England whaling ships of the time, in that its crew sailed thousands of miles from home hunting whales to harvest their blubber. They boiled the fat of the massive marine mammals into oil used to light lamps in cities from New York to London and to power early industry.

The appetite for whale blubber oil, however, meant the ships quickly exhausted successive whale grounds. The Essex was far off the coast of South America when the sperm whale rammed into it. The Two Brothers was passing through poorly mapped waters northwest of the main Hawaiian islands on the way to recently discovered whale grounds closer to Japan when it hit the reef.

"It was kind of like this ship trap of atolls," Gleason said. "It went from about 40 feet to all of the sudden they were in about 10 feet of water."

For Hawaii, the discovery is a reminder of the great upheaval the whaling industry brought to a kingdom still adjusting to life after the first European travelers arrived.

The hundreds of whaling ships that called on Hawaii's ports starting in 1819 boosted the kingdom's economy, but this mostly benefitted a few men who became suppliers to the vessels, said Jonathan Osorio, a professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The arrival of thousands of outsiders — some of whom claimed Hawaiian law had no jurisdiction over them because they were American or European — challenged the young monarchy.

Gleason said the artifacts are due to go on display at the marine monument's Discovery Center in Hilo and she hopes the exhibit will travel to Nantucket. The archeologists also have more surveying to do: there's still no accounting for another five whaling ships that sank in the atolls that now make up the Papahanaumokuakea monument.

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