Before kerosene or petroleum was used, the industrial market needed whale oil. The rich oil was used in lights, candle wax and for lubricating machinery, which increased in demand during the Industrial Revolution. At first, whales were harvested when they washed up on shore around Long Island, Cape Cod and Nantucket. Then, as demand for the oil increased, the fisherman took to the seas on journeys that lasted several months. Eventually, the local grounds were fished out and the whaling ships had to venture south to the fertile whaling grounds of the Pacific – the Essex was one of these ships. The 87-foot long Essex, which weighed 238 tons, left its port in Nantucket in August of 1819 to hunt whales. On November 20, 1820, a pod of sperm whales was finally sighted and the hunt was on. As the men were out on the ocean killing whales, the men onboard the Essex observed a larger whale, about 85 feet long, floating on the surface. Then, the huge whale began to slowly move toward the ship. Quickly picking up speed, the whale made a shallow dive and then rammed into the bottom of the boat under the water. After recovering from the blow, it took aim once again. This time, when the whale approached the ship, his head was halfway out of the water and he bore down on the bow with his body. The bow was crushed like an eggshell. The whale removed his head from the shattered, sinking ship and swam off, never to be seen again. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Herman Melville, a young whaler in the South Pacific, heard the tale of the Essex. Do you think he got the idea for his 1851 book “Moby Dick” from the story of the Essex? It is true that long before Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the now-famous whale “Moby Dick” were created, there was a real whale that attacked and sank the whaling ship Essex.
SharLeigh has an inquisitive nature – she is interested in current events, history, science and many more subjects, including things that go bump in the night! Since 1997, SharLeigh has scoured the internet, looking for interesting, fun and timely topics covering all sorts of human-interest subjects for her articles from her home in Fontana, CA.