The American whaler Essex, which hailed from Nantucket, Massachusetts , is attacked by an ton sperm whale 2, miles from the western coast of South America. The ton Essex was in pursuit of sperm whales, specifically the precious oil and bone that could be derived from them, when an enraged bull whale rammed the ship twice and capsized the vessel. The 20 crew members escaped in three open boats, but only five of the men survived the harrowing day journey to the coastal waters of South America, where they were picked up by other ships. Most of the crew resorted to cannibalism during the long journey, and at one point men on one of the long boats drew straws to determine which of the men would be shot in order to provide sustenance for the others. Three other men who had been left on a desolate Pacific island were saved later. The first capture of a sperm whale by an American vessel was in , marking the birth of an important American industry that commanded a fleet of more than ships by the mid 18th century.
How realistic are the vengeful whales of “Moby-Dick” and “In the Heart of the Sea,” really?
Sperm Whale - National Maritime Historical Society
The revenge of a whale or an accidental tragedy? A dramatic retelling of the story that inspired Herman Melville's classic novel will be hitting our screens on BBC One this Sunday - but do whales really attack humans intentionally? Sperm whales are relatively placid mammals and very few incidents in modern times suggest otherwise. They mainly feed on squid and rarely attack, apparently only when mistaking other mammals for seals or prey. In his book about the natural history of sperm whales, Thomas Beale, a surgeon aboard a whaleship, described them as "a most timid and inoffensive animal readily endeavouring to escape from the slightest thing which bears an unusual appearance". But Dr Richard Bevan, a zoologist and lecturer at Newcastle University, suggests that a sperm whale may remember if it was previously attacked.
The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick
But times were changing: Whale populations in the North Atlantic had declined, forcing whaling ships to head to more distant waters, first plundering the rich pickings off the South American coast, then striking out into the Pacific. The economic stakes were high: Each expedition could yield hundreds of barrels of precious whale oil. There was also valuable ambergris, a substance from the sperm whale used in making perfumes and medicines. Expeditions could last for years while being highly profitable.
Like a tourist, Melville met local dignitaries, dined out and took in the sights of the village he had previously only imagined. Captain George Pollard Jr. Pollard lived out his remaining years on land, as the village night watchman.