Skip to main content

Scientist: New ‘white whale’ tale not accurate

Mess with a sperm whale, get an 80-ton torpedo that will sink a ship and stalk the surviving crew across the ocean. That, at least, is the plot of Ron Howard’s cinematic rendering of “In The Heart of the Sea.”

Based on the 2000 book by Nathaniel Philbrick, it’s a loose retelling of the 1821 sinking of the whaleship Essex, after an enormous sperm whale bashed in its hull with its head. The story eventually helped inspire Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, which describes a whaleship captain’s self-destructive obsession with hunting down the white sperm whale that sunk a previous ship and severed his leg.

The film “is doing a disservice to the whales,” says Shane Gero, a behavioral ecologist at Aarhaus University’s institute for bioscience.