The Story Behind the Greatest Ocean Adventure Ever "Moby Dick: Heart of a Whale"

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01 December 2015
Moby Dick: Heart of a Whale
Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel
"Moby Dick: Heart of a Whale"
Premieres Friday, December 4 at 9 PM ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel™
         Was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick an allegorical tale or were there giants of the sea that really attacked ships? Was there a real Captain Ahab, consumed by vengeance and crippled by a whale? Smithsonian Channel attempts to answer these questions in a new one-hour special MOBY DICK: HEART OF A WHALE, premiering Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
         MOBY DICK: HEART OF A WHALE, draws from historical accounts where whales – then considered bloodthirsty predators – seemed to have deliberately attacked whale ships. It explores the anatomy and behavior of one of the largest creatures on the planet, capable of producing the loudest sounds, and weighing as much as sixty tons. This special tells the gripping story of the crew members of the whale ship Essex – whose epic whale hunting expedition became a tragic story as mythic in the nineteenth century as the story of the Titanic is today. The quest takes viewers from the home base of the American whaling industry in Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts, into the cruel waters of the Pacific and the sperm whale hunting grounds off the coast of South America.
         Through historical reenactments, computer generated graphics and expert testimony, MOBY DICK: HEART OF A WHALE explains how Melville’s literary masterpiece and the legend came about, inspired by sperm whales whose extraordinary size and design allows them to perform almost unbelievable feats.
         “Moby Dick” and the story of the Essex have both captured the imagination of filmmakers, playwrights, musicians and cartoonists. “Moby Dick” was first produced as a silent movie in 1926, called “The Sea Beast,” John Huston directed “Moby Dick” in 1956 starring Gregory Peck and Orson Welles, and it is the subject of Oscar® winner Ron Howard’s new movie “In the Heart of the Sea.”
         One of the real events that influenced Melville began in August of 1819 when the whale ship Essex set out on a two and a half year voyage to hunt whales in the Pacific. A year into the hunt and a thousand miles west of the Galapagos Islands a giant sperm whale brutally struck the vessel. With the ship sinking, the crew members set out in three boats, leaving the doomed ship behind. Lost at sea for nearly three months, they sailed 3,500 miles with only eight of the twenty men surviving. The first mate, Owen Chase, later published an account, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, suggesting that the whale acted deliberately.
         Melville’s whale was a malicious battering ram that attacked ships and killed sailors. But could a whale hunt down a ship and deliver a blow powerful enough to sink it? Was there really a white whale that prowled the seas with such premeditation? Today, scientists believe that this behavior might be due to a unique kind of whale sonar that may trigger a predatory response leading them to track and hunt down objects in the ocean.
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