What caused an 85 ton Sperm whale to crash into the side of the Essex, causing one of the most disastrous and tragic accidents in maritime history? Was this a calculated attack? Did it see the whaling ship as an unwanted rival in its territory? Did the crew of the Essex have anything to do with the whales' sporadic behavior? Or was this simply an unexplainable act of nature's unpredictability?
On November 20, 1820 the crew of the Essex spotted an unusual sight, an extremely large bull. The men estimated it to be about eighty-five feet long and weigh approximately eighty tons. However it was not only the large sight of the whale that alarmed the men, but it was its strange behavior. "Instead of fleeing in panic, it was floating quietly on the surface of the water, puffin occasionally through its blowhole, as if it were watching them. After spouting two or three times, the whale dove then surfaced about 35 yards from the ship (81)." After diving the whale began to do the unspeakable it began to charge the Essex, "Its twenty foot-wide tail pumped up and down slowly at first, with a slight side to side waggle, it picked up speed until the water crested around its massive barrel shaped head. It was aimed at the Essex's port side (81)." Upon noticing that the whale was going to ram into the ship the captain gave the order to "pull the helm hard up" to prevent a direct hit however the order was given to late the whale it the ship, "The Essex shook as if she had struck a rock. Every man was knock off his feet we looked at each other in perfect amazement (81)."
Because a sperm whale is designed to survive a head-on impact it survived the initial blow to the ship. He then began to make another pass at the ship, "With his huge scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white water wake more than 40 feet across the whale approached the ship at twice the original speed- at least six knots (83)."
It has been...