The Real Moby Dick

The Real Moby—Dick

The sperm whale, largest of the toothed whales, about seventy feet in length and weighing fifty tons, can and does at times display tremendous power and ferocity.

Titanic battles often occur between males, usually for female harems. They ram each other with their tremendous heads and slash at each other's flukes and flippers with their fearsome eight—inch teeth. It is not unusual for combat to end in death for one of the participants.

Long bull sperm whales caused spectacular maritime disasters during the nineteenth—century whaling era. The sailors in small whaleboats, as often as not, never even got to harpoon the whale. The enraged bull would bear down on them, crunching the small boats to splinters in its jaws. Or it might choose to smash the boat to splintered wood with a tremendous whack from its fluke.

As if this were not enough, at times the enraged bull would turn and batter the mother vessel itself. During the nineteenth century a number of large wooden whaling ships were sent to the bottom when a bull sperm whale used its enormous head to punch massive holes in the ship.

This type of disaster was usually accomplished by large rogue bulls that became so well known that they were even given names. The most notorious was a large white sperm whale known as Mocha Dick. He was the most feared of rogue whales and promptly became the terror of the whaling waters. He destroyed a number of mother ships through unprovoked ramming. The huge holes in the ships' sides quickly sent them to the bottom, often with their crews.

In 1842 Mocha Dick rammed a coastal freighter off Japan and turned on three whaling ships that came after him, ramming and chewing up small boats and men alike. His last victim appears to have been the Ann Alexander in 1851. The whale first demolished the small boats containing the harpoon crews and then turned on the large whaling ship. The tremendous head easily bashed a large hole in the side, causing the ship to sink into the sea.

The eventual fate of Mocha Dick is unknown. Perhaps he was killed by another rogue or just died of old age, but whatever his end, his disappearance from the sea was a great relief to the whalers of the era.

When Herman Melville wrote his classic tale Moby—Dick, the basis for this story of a great white whale was, indeed, Mocha Dick.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth