Ishmael notes that during a whale-hunt the harpooneer and the headsman (in this previous case, Stubb) must switch places when the harpooneer throws out the harpoon, since the harpooneer is also expected to row an oar along with the other sailors, while the headsman does not. The headsman then takes over stabbing the whale once the harpoon has hooked it, but Ishmael believes this is unfair to the harpooneer, who must work as much as any other oarsman, and then who must summon “superhuman” strength to hit the whale with the long lance.
Ishmael makes sure the reader knows each of the implements a whale-hunter might use when out on the high seas. Much like a matador, a whale-hunter uses a long lance to wound the whale initially, then a small dagger to repeatedly strike the whale, in the hopes of causing it to “bleed out” and expire in the deep. And, much like a bull in a ring, a whale in the ocean takes a long time to rid itself of blood—meaning that many dagger blows are often necessary.