In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - A WHALE DESTROYS the ESSEX

This screenshot, from Ron Howard's film "In the Heart of the Sea," recreates what it must have been like for the whaleship Essex just before it was fatally rammed by a sperm whale. Copyright, Warner Brothers, all rights reserved. Image provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the movie. Click on the image for a better view.


The oil, inside a sperm whale’s head, helps to cushion the impact of collisions the creatures sometimes have with whaleboats (and with other males as they assert their prominence during mating season).

Still, the Essex-ramming sperm whale—whose 85-foot length made it nearly as long as the ship—did not just sustain a slight bump. He hit the boat so hard that it felt like the Essex had struck a rock.

Chase, seeing the stunned whale, had a chance to harpoon it but did nothing. He was worried that if the whale reacted badly to a harpoon strike it could damage, or destroy, the ship’s rudder.

When the gigantic cetacean regained its senses, it seemed angry. In his narrative, Chase writes that it began to swim again, this time “with rage and fury.” Moving toward the windward side of the ship, it crossed the bow at a high rate of speed.

When the whale was ahead of the ship, it turned. Heading directly toward the Essex, it was traveling at around 6 knots. Now it was Chase’s turn to be utterly stunned. Was this whale deliberately attacking the ship?

The First Mate yelled to the helmsman—at that moment, the cabin boy Thomas Nickerson—to “hard up.” But there was no time for the ship to change course.

The whale struck the Essex on the port bow, just beneath the anchor at the cathead. The ship came to a sudden stop as the front of it moved onto the whale’s forehead.

With its tail continuously striking the water, the whale pushed the 238-ton ship backwards. Water began to pour over its transom.

Filling with water, as depicted in a drawing which Thomas Nickerson later made, the ship was doomed. The whale, meanwhile, turned and swam away ... reportedly, never to be seen again.

William Bond, the African-American steward, immediately went below deck to save navigational instruments. He found two compasses, two copies of “New American Practical Navigator” (by Nathaniel Bowditch) and two quadrants.

He also retrieved the sea trunks used by George Pollard (the captain) and Owen Chase (the first mate).

About ten minutes had passed between the whale’s attack and the ship’s demise.

Captain Pollard and Matthew Joy (the second mate) were still hunting whales—away from the Essex—when they suddenly realized their main ship was sinking. Releasing their whales, they quickly rowed back to the ship (or what was left of it).

When he reached the Essex, a stunned captain asked his first mate:

My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?

Nickerson recalled the first mate’s unbelievable answer:

We have been stove by a whale.

What was the position of the Essex when it was “stove by a whale?” Its latitude was 0º 40' South; its longitude was 119º 0' West.

Where, exactly, is that? The Essex was just south of the Equator, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

In other words ... the crew was about as far away from land as it was possible to be any place on Earth.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 19, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"A WHALE DESTROYS the ESSEX" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 19, 2015. May 27, 2020.
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