Out of the depths: Whale kills fisherman

A 423

Herman Melville was inspired by a real-life attack on a whale ship by an apparently vengeful sperm whale. While a struggling writer living in obscurity around the New Bedford docks, he read of the 1820 attack upon the ship Essex in mid-Pacific. The vessel was sunk, sending the crew to the lifeboats and a several-thousand-mile open-boat odyssey involving cannibalism and numerous other hardships. The incident was considered freakish, and such violent contact with whales remains almost unheard of. It was therefore with great surprise that marine biologists greeted news of the California fisherman who was killed in early September by a breaching whale. The whale landed on the 22-foot vessel, crushing its deck and throwing the operator into the water. The incident occurred off Port San Luis, near Bakersfield, Calif.

Jerry Tibbs, the 51-year-old restaurateur from Bakersfield who was the vessel's operator, was thrown into the water instantly when the whale crushed the vessel, according to reports from the Coast Guard station at Morro Bay. His body was found more than 12 hours later following an extensive search that was hampered by the fog. Survivors of the incident said the whale landed on its back and then slid back into the water.

By Ocean Navigator