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The second most famous whale in the world had no name.
We don’t know when it was born or when it died.

We just know what it did.

On the morning of November 20, 1820, in the Pacific Ocean 2000 miles west of South America, this sperm whale bull, around 85 feet long, attacked a wooden whale boat.

The angry whale rammed the boat, then dived under her. On board the ship were two crewmen, who witnessed the whale turning for a second attack:

“At a speed of about 24 knots, it appeared with
tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect.”

The attacking whale crushed the bow of the ship, driving it backward. Then it disengaged its head from the shattered timbers and swam off, disappearing, leaving a hole in the ship below the water line. The ship was doomed.

Owen Chase, First Mate of the whaleship Essex, in later years

The name of the ship was the “Essex” and the story of how the crew attempted to survive a chancy return to shore was told by the First Mate, Owen Chase, one of the few survivors.

You can hear Owen Chase’s story in our Listen2Read audiobook, “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex.” It is a fascinating story of a struggle for survival.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Herman Melville

Owen Chase had a son, William Henry Chase, who grew up to be a whaler, just like his father. Twenty-one years later, Chase’s son was on a whaleship, in the Pacific Ocean, close to where the Essex was destroyed. He showed a copy of the book his father wrote to another crewman, who was greatly impressed.

That crewman was Herman Melville. A few years later in 1851, inspired by the Essex disaster, Melville wrote a novel about a white whale named “Moby Dick.” That fictional whale went on to become the most famous whale in the world.


But it all started with Owen Chase’s book. You can hear the original first hand story wherever you download audiobooks, including here:


Thank you for being part of our Listen2Read audiobook community and listening to our expanding library of significant historical American adventures.

Please stay safe.

Andre Stojka

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