Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is more than just a novel about a guy and a sea creature, but what a whale of a story it was! Sure, the famous shipwreck of the Essex inspired the climax, but the book's titular critter was actually inspired by a super-destructive real-life whale, bearing the truly epic name of "Mocha Dick."
Himself a whaleman and sailor, Melville had quite a few seaworthy experiences from which to draw Ahab and Ishmael's epic adventures. But he also read up on other pretty big journeys, probably including Jeremiah Reynolds's Mocha Dick: Or the White Wale of the Pacific: a Leaf from a Manuscript Journal. Reynolds said that a whaleman that he met spun a yarn about conquering the biggest beast he'd ever met.
According to Reynolds, Mocha Dick was "had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers" and "he was white as wool" (italics from the original). Similarly, Moby Dick was pretty pale, although he wasn't a true albino, and both Dicks were pretty destructive sperm whales, although they were pretty calm until provoked.
Moby Dick wreaks havoc. Image via The L.A. Review of Books.
Mocha Dick was a truly legendary beastie who swam the length and breadth of the Pacific Ocean, spreading destruction and stories everywhere he went. He got his name from the island of Mocha off the Chilean cost; his first reported attack against a whaling ship occurred in 1810...of the island of Mocha. The tale of Mocha Dick became wide-spread; Whalers would ask one another, "Any news about Mocha Dick?"; the more word about him spread, the more and more people claimed to have encountered his calamitous ways.
Undoubtedly, Mocha Dick was provoked by the whaling ships who tried to kill him. But he did attacked a number of vessels between 1810 and 1839-1859 (the year and circumstances in which he was killed depend on the account). Melville himself recounted the mammal's passing at the hands of a Swedish whaler in 1859; the beastie was blind in one eye, his lungs punctured by a lance, nineteen harpoons piercing his skin after so many battles.
Feature image via Thomas Beale/University of Denver.