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em dashes are usually used to denote an interruption or sudden change — whether in dialogue, thought or narrative — ellipses are for pauses, again in all respects. 'I just don't see why— 'I don't care what you think,' Johan barked, turning from me before I could protest. 'She was just...' His face turned pale as his memory returned to that ...


I might use an M-dash for the whale example, because it's startling. For the gold watch, that's more of a thoughtful pause, so it would take an ellipsis. Also related on this site: Using dashes in writing dialogue and How not to overuse ellipsis?

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