About This Show
A celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. Each episode explores unusual historical events and other curiosities and features a lateral thinking puzzle that you can try to solve along with us.
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070-Sunk by a Whale
3 days ago
In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was attacked and sunk by an 85-foot sperm whale in the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the attack, which left 20 men to undertake an impossible journey to South America in three small whaleboats.
We'll also learn about an Australian athlete who shipped himself across the world in a box in 1964 and puzzle over an international traveler's impressive feat of navigation.
Sources for our feature on the whaleship Essex:
Owen Chase, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex, 1821.
Thomas Farel Heffernan, Stove by a Whale: Owen Chase and the Essex, 1981.
Thomas Nickerson et al., The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, 2000.
Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea, 2000.
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851.
Adam Summers, "Fat Heads Sink Ships," Natural History 111:7 (September 2002): 40-41.
David R. Carrier, Stephen M. Deban, and Jason Otterstrom, "The Face That Sank the Essex: Potential Function of the Spermaceti Organ in Aggression," Journal of Experimental Biology 205:12 (June 15, 2002), 1755-1763.
Henry F. Pommer, "Herman Melville and the Wake of The Essex," American Literature 20:3 (November 1948): 290-304.
Fourteen-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson was at the helm at the time of the attack; he made this sketch later in life. "I heard a loud cry from several voices at once, that the whale was coming foul of the ship. Scarcely had the sound of their voices reached my ears when it was followed by a tremendous crash. The whale had struck the ship with his head directly under the larboard fore chains at the waters edge with such force as to shock every man upon his feet."
Thanks to listener David Balmain (and David McRaney's "You Are Not So Smart" podcast) for the tip about penurious javelinist Reg Spiers' 1964 postal odyssey to Australia. Further sources for that segment: