Moby Dick Chapter 63 The Crotch
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/270 ... m#2HCH0063
The crotch is a notched stick holding harpoons ready for insertion into whales. The "instantaneous, violent, convulsive running of the whale upon receiving the first iron" often means there is no time to insert the second barb, which has to be tossed overboard, lest it accidentally lodge in the head of a hapless rower.
The occupational health and safety here falls short of modern standards.
when the second iron is thrown overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions. Nor, in general, is it possible to secure it again until the whale is fairly captured and a corpse. Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging one unusually strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these qualities in him, as well as to the thousand concurring accidents of such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be simultaneously dangling about him. For, of course, each boat is supplied with several harpoons to bend on to the line should the first one be ineffectually darted without recovery.