On November 20, 1820, the American whaling ship Essex was rammed by a sperm whale and sunk. The incident inspired Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby Dick.The Essex had left her home port on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, more than a year earlier. Nantucket and the mainland Massachusetts town of New Bedford were the whaling capitals of the world, sending out hundreds of ships and sailors across the ocean every year.Whaling was a lucrative business. Sperm whales, the species sought by the Essex and most other whalers of the time, were valued for both their blubber and waxy oil found in their huge heads. These substances were refined into oils that were used in candles, cosmetics, and lubricants for machinery. Whaling fleets had radically reduced sperm whale populations in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Essex had planned on a two-and-a-half year voyage to the rich “whaling grounds” of the South Pacific.On November 20, the Essex encountered a pod of whales, and her small whaleboats set off to harpoon the animals and tow them back to the ship for processing. After harpooning one whale, the small, open whaleboat was pulled by the giant animal in what was nicknamed a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”As her captain watched from on deck, the Essex herself—238 tons, 27 meters (87 feet)—was forcefully, purposefully rammed by an enormous sperm whale separated from the pod. There was nothing the crew could do about it—the animal was bigger, stronger, and had much, much greater agility than the ship. The ship sank within two days, leaving 20 survivors in three leaky whaleboats.The survivors were more than 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the nearest islands (the Marquesas), without adequate supplies of food and freshwater. The boats were separated and most men resorted to cannibalism before being rescued months later. Of the 21 crew who left Nantucket, eight survived. So did the whale.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry adequate Adjective
suitable or good enough.
ability to move quickly, easily, and with flexibility.
thick layer of fat under the skin of marine mammals.
Encyclopedic Entry: blubber cannibal Noun
organism that eats the meat of members of its own species.
substances applied to the body to make it appear more attractive.
to meet, especially unexpectedly.
group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.
water that is not salty.
long, sharp tool mostly used for hunting whales and large ocean fish.
event or happening.
to influence to act.
body of land surrounded by water.
Encyclopedic Entry: island lubricant Noun
substance (such as grease or oil) used to reduce friction.
profitable or money-making.
mechanical appliances or tools used in manufacturing.
fictional narrative or story.
slippery, greasy liquid that is usually flammable and does not mix with water. Oils can be processed from plants, animal fats, minerals, and man-made substances.
group of whales or dolphins.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.
Encyclopedic Entry: port radically Adverb
completely or extremely.
to shove or push forcefully.
to lower or lessen.
to make more pure or clean.
vehicle on flat runners, pulled by animals and used for transport across snow or ice.
long journey or trip.
industry of hunting whales.