Though Melville didn't give precise dimensions, Moby-Dick was definitely a very large whale. While sperm whales measuring over 100 feet (30 meters) have not been recorded these days, back in 1841, when Melville crewed on the Acushnet, "100-barrel" whales were common.
The whaleman's barrel was a rather vague figure, but it was generally reckoned that one foot of whale equaled one barrel, so a 100-barrel whale was one hundred feet long, give or take a few inches or more. So that means that Moby-Dick was the same length as the fictional Pequod, whaleships being generally one hundred feet long, give or take another few inches.
So, if Moby-Dick was ever killed and then flensed of its thick coat of blubber, and that blubber turned into oil, the oil would fill one hundred barrels, again with some give and take, barrels not being all the same size and shape aboard ship. How many gallons were in one barrel was another fairly vague figure, but experts tend to agree that it was thirty-three. So Moby-Dick would have boiled out 3300 gallons. And, on the New York market at the time, good spermaceti oil fetched $1.77 a gallon.
So Moby-Dick was worth $5,841.00 in the currency of the time. Today's equivalent is $204,601.54 in good hard modern cash.
No small sum. Today, however, it is claimed that Moby-Dick would be worth much, much more, as a carbon sink. About three million dollars, in fact, according to a fascinating article posted in Stuff.co.nz
A great whale is worth US$2 million (NZ$3.1 million).
The size of that number so terrified Ralph Chami, the economist who appraised the whales, that he sought refuge in a church for the first time in 30 years. Inside St. Matthew's Cathedral here, a few blocks from Chami's office at the International Monetary Fund, the economist said he had "a conversation with the Maker. I said: 'If you aim to humiliate me, there are other ways of doing it.' "
Chami had, after all, veered outside his lane to make a first-of-its-kind claim. He studies macroeconomic policies in developing countries, not ecology. After deleting his whale calculations three times, and three times arriving at the same answer, Chami enlisted an IMF researcher, Sena Oztosun, as well as two outside economists, Thomas Cosimano and Connel Fullenkamp. They consulted whale scientists and research papers. The world population of whales is worth more than US$1 trillion, the researchers concluded in a recent report, due to whale tourism, the nutrients whales disperse and the carbon captured by their massive bodies.
"They didn't get cute with the problem. They made the perfectly sensible suggestion that, as a store of carbon, whales ought to be valued when alive on the basis of their carbon content," said Partha Dasgupta, an environmental economist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with this work. Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas, but carbon stored in a whale body does not contribute to climate change.
"It's really exciting and a really creative approach," said Andrew Pershing, a climate change ecologist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Pershing and his colleagues calculated, in a 2010 study, that the restoration of great whale populations to preindustrial levels would be equivalent, in tons of carbon captured, to the growth of a forest the size of Rocky Mountain National Park.