The Tale of the Whale

RIC BURNS’S DOCUMENTARY Into the Deep: America, Whaling, and the World debuts on 5/10 on WGBH. He tells us about the local contributions to whaling lore.

November 9, 1620 Weary passengers of the Mayflower are greeted by dozens of right whales. "Everyday we saw Whales playing hard by us," one new colonist wistfully wrote. "If we had instruments and meanes [sic] to take them, we might have made a very rich return."

August 12, 1819 The Nantucket whaleship Essex is rammed by an 85-ton sperm whale. The 20-man crew is forced into three flimsy whaleboats to make a 4,500-mile journey to safety. Eight men survive, most by eating the 12 who don’t.

August 24, 1924
The Wanderer, the last remaining whaleship in the American fleet, weighs anchor at New Bedford for its final voyage. The night after the ship sets sail, a hurricane descends on Cape Cod, driving the boat across the bay and dashing it against the rocks off Cuttyhunk. The crew lives, but the wreck becomes the closing chapter in the three-century history of American whaling.