white whale

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White whale (Delphinapterus leucas) at an aquarium in Thailand.


Figurative and additional senses derive from references to Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick, in which Captain Ahab relentlessly pursues an albino sperm whale.


white whale (plural white whales)

  1. A cetacean, Delphinapterus leucas, found in the Arctic Ocean.
    • 2007, Nancy Lord, Beluga Days: Tracking the Endangered White Whale, Prologue, pages 22-23.
      The English called the beluga the "white whale", a name often still used (and not to be confused with the white whale of Moby-Dick, which was an albino sperm whale).
  2. (figurative) An obsession; monomania.
    • 2008, Glen Inglis, Broken Heroes, page 228
      "No. . . no sapphires. It looks like Lester Velasquez was chasing his white whale. There never were any sapphires inside that diner."
    • 2010, Tom Grimes, Mentor: A Memoir, chapter 3, page 21
      Baseball would be my great white whale.
  3. (trading cards) A printing plate used to manufacture a particular sports card, that is then issued as a collectible itself.
  4. (informal) A person who routinely spends very large amounts of money on gambling, investments, or premium content for video games etc.



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