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The Leviathan

Josh Churchman gets in touch with his inner Ishmael


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At a quarter mile, Kenny and I could both agree that this was our first sperm whale. The narrow head, the wrinkled skin, the forward slant to its blow, it had all the defining characteristics that distinguish this whale from the rest. It was quite a sight to see it glowing, tannish-white under the surface of the clear blue green of the Pacific.

Kenny is a very patient man. He is tall, has dark hair and eyes, and he can fix anything anywhere at any time. We have fished together for over twenty years and in all that time I have only seen him truly alarmed once. This was not that one time, but it was close.

At three hundred yards, it was clear that we were in this whale's way. It became vividly clear that the size of the whale had increased as the distance between us decreased. We saw that our boat was less than half the size of the whale. Interest had turned to amazement, amazement had turned to alarm. Obviously one of us had to move out of the other's way.

Banging on the side of the boat with our wooden gaffs and yelling at the whale seem like dumb things in retrospect, but so many things we do in life seem dumb when we have had time to think them over. All of this is happening faster than I can tell the story, so there was little time for reflective thinking. Both of us stood there banging on the boat and yelling at that big old white sperm whale as he advanced upon us. The whale was not impressed.

At fifty yards, I had a wave of inspiration. Start my motors and prepare for evasive action. My homemade boat is equipped with two powerful outboard motors, and it can literally jump to twenty miles an hour when we are not loaded down with fish. The problem was the fact that our fishing lines were still down and they both had fish on them, and the water was six hundred feet deep. There was no time to reel in the lines.

The thought of cutting off my rigs never even entered my mind. I don't think either of us was concerned for our safety; we were just stunned and amazed. Of all the whales over all the years, not one had ever tried to ram the boat.


At twenty yards, the size and majesty of our white whale was very impressive, and the memory has remained clear over the years. The glow of its huge near-white body a few feet under the surface of the sea, no more than twenty yards away, was beauty with a twist.

This was a real sea monster. Everything about this whale exuded power. Fearless is an understatement. This whale had no rivals, and it knew it. One slap from this whale's tail would crush my boat and kill us both.

I put the boat in gear and moved out of its way. The whale never turned. It passed the spot where we had been just moments before and began a slow descent into the depths. The glow of its powerful body gradually diminished, and finally faded away. We never saw it again.

Squid Vicious

I think I do need sea monsters to believe in. Somewhere in our psyche, there may be the hope, and the fear, that there is life on this planet that is smart and dangerous and elusive, and we haven't seen it yet.

The giant squid is the ultimate lurker. It will see you long before you will see it. I am so glad there is a creature like this, and at the same time, I hope I never see one from the deck of my little boat.

It is a sign of intelligence for the squid to have avoided contact with humans? Or is it simply the fact that the squid live in an area that is difficult for humans to visit? Is it a conscious choice or pure luck that they have eluded mankind for hundreds of years?

Does the whale eat the giant squid, or does the squid eat the whale? Most squid swim in packs. Do giant squid swim in packs, too? Could a whale defend itself against a group of thirty giant squid?

One solitary giant squid is one thing; a school of them is an entirely different scenario. Would the mighty sperm whale stand a chance against [a] pack of two hundred hungry squid? The whale is on a time schedule, and the squid is not. At the end of a dive, the whale needs air, and this is when I would attack a whale if I were a squid. If we can just keep him from reaching the surface, he will weaken quickly.

If squid only live four or five years, how do they get enough food to grow to be fifty feet long? Eating a whale would help. Squid have a system that literally grinds up the food they eat before it reaches their stomach. This makes it very hard to analyze the stomach contents. Nobody really knows what the squid are eating. No scientists have ever seen a squid capture a whale, and they probably never will. Does this mean it never happens?


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