The hunting of whales was big business for a hundred years. In the late 1700s, an industry based on the oil of the massive animal began to grow in importance. Whales were hunted with ferocity for the huge profits whale oil brought as more lamps burned the smokeless fuel. But tales of the animals attacking back were not just fiction. The most famous was the attack on the Essex in 1820, which was the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
In 1851, the year Melville's masterpiece is published and panned, a whale attacked the Ann Alexander and sunk her.