Sperm whales are the largest of all toothed whales, and the largest living toothed predators on Earth. They grow up to 67 feet (20.5 meters) long and weigh up to 63 tons (57,000 kg), which makes them quite formidable. Luckily, they primarily eat giant squid and not humans.

A pod of sperm whales. Photo by Gabriel Barathieu.
A pod of sperm whales. Photo by Gabriel Barathieu.

However, even if they don’t eat humans, they can still be quite aggressive towards them. In the days of whaling, sperm whales were highly coveted for the spermaceti from their head and the “sperm oil” from their blubber. But they were not easy to catch, and they did not go down without a fight. They were notorious for destroying small rowboats with ease, but they have been known to sink entire ships. In fact, in one instance, an angry bull sperm whale rammed and sank the Nantucket whaleship Essex. This is believed to have inspired Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby Dick.

Sperm whale attacking the whaleship Essex.
Sperm whale attacking the whaleship Essex.

Even today, incidents of sperm whale aggression have been documented, although the attacks have always been provoked. In Japan, a 50 foot (15 meter) sperm whale stranded in Uwajima Bay attacked a pair of fishing boats and killed a fisherman. The fishermen were attempted to coax the whale out of the bay and into the open sea, but the whale became agitated and easily flipped their tiny boats. Watch a video of the incident below.