Fear of Whales

My parents gave me a wonderful book on Whales for my birthday this past week. It's called Cetacean Societies and you can find it by searching StuffBooks. Fortunately, the book has not very many underwater pictures, and lots of maps and tables and text. ("Very scientificy," said Marsha.)

For those of you who don't know, I have an acute fear of whales. Just this weekend, I discovered that "I am not alone" (!).

Edward over at Obsidian Wings writes in tones that come very close to my own experience:

hat do you irrationally fear? I know I should not admit this in a public forum, but I have a near paralyzing fear of whales. There. I've admitted it. Whales scare the bejesus out of me.

I think I always knew this, but never having encountered a whale, it didn't become clear until I watched the Japanese film Dr. Akagi. There's a scene where a man and woman row out into the sea in a tiny row boat and there's this amazing aerial shot of a massive whale swimming right below them, dwarfing them. I nearly had a seizure, and even now, just visualizing it makes me shiver.

There's a scene in 20000 Leagues Beneath the Sea where Captain Nemo opens the portal covering in his submarine and you can look out into the deep abyss. As a kid watching that film, I nearly freaked out during that scene. I used to think it was the wide open space I was afraid of, but now I believe it was simply a sense that "that's enough room for a whale to come along in."

This will prevent me from ever taking up scuba diving seriously. Even now when snorkeling, as I love to do, if the distance between the ocean floor and the top of the water becomes, er...well, whale size, I have to turn back. I just know that if I stay, merrily enjoying the adorable (i.e., smaller than me) marine life around me, I'll bump into this wall that I swore wasn't there a moment ago, and just as I being to explore the barnacles and bumps on its surface, the really large one will open to reveal a giant eyeball as big as my whole head and I will die right there, on the spot. I can't explain it.

Joye over at her blog writes:

Is there an image that immediately evokes fear in you? I don't mean a still shot from The Nightmare on Elm Street or a graphic photo depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. Just an innocuous, unobjectionable image? Say you were flipping through the pages of a magazine and that image was to suddenly appear on the page, would it cause a tightening or sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach or a slight ringing in your ears?

I've never seen a photo, drawing, or television scene of a whale without having those responses. Especially seeing a whale in the deep of the ocean can induce an uneasiness; an irrational fear. I suppose it would be categorized as a phobia, although I don't have to flee the room like people do on talk shows when they're confronted with their phobias. But, yes, I think whales are frightening creatures. They're big, scary, sea monsters. There. I said it.

I can't imagine that any fear is completely unfounded. It must have its roots in something, even if only a wrong perception in one's mind. My fear of whales is probably a throwback to the first time I saw Disney's Pinocchio at the theatre. I do vividly recall the scene with Monstro the Whale barreling through the deep water, a great menacing leviathan crashing down upon Pinnocchio and devouring the tiny puppet. I hated the movie. I still don't like the story, either. It's creepy.

Some comments on Joye's post followup with the Pinnochio experience, which is part but probably not all of the source for me:i have the same fear and i also believe it originated when i first saw pinocchio! your description of it as a barrelling leviathan perfectly encapsuled my fear. ugh. Joye revisited the topic a few months later and got a lot of comments from other who suffer from the fear as well. Some of these really struck a chord with me:I had absolutely NO idea there was anyone else out there. If I even happen to come accross a photo of a whale, I need medication my panic attick is so bad. So believe me, you are not alone! My parents even tried to get my to see a therapist regarding it, but I researched the tactics therapists use to help with phobias and I think I may die with some of them; so I choose to just avoid at all costs!

* * *

i am absolutley terrified of whales too!! videos of whales, pictures, even painted or drawn pictures of whales freak me out. when i went to see happy feet, i almost started crying because of the whales-- and the scary noises they make in finding nemo. and has anyone seen the preview for surfs up? wayyyy scary. you will not find me near a whale watch if i have anything to do with it.

There are more good comments at an entry on another blog about Sarah's whale phobia:

No, no, I am only afraid of the huge ones. Blue whales, sperm whales, humpback whales. Blue whales in particular though, since they are the super huge ones. The thought that they even exist literally makes me shudder.

* * *

I’ve been uncontrollably afraid of whales for as long I can remember - I’ve never even seen one. It doesn’t stop there though, anything underwater tends to make me cringe, panic, or hide. I generally won’t go in large bodies of water, and definitely not water I can’t see to the bottom in. It’s really saddening to see people joke about this. I constantly find pictures of whales left for me because people think it’s funny to see my reaction.

* * *

OMG! I have whale-phobia too. (IM NOT KIDDING) I’m always having these dreams where I am in the ocean and a whale comes up and tries to kill me, I always wake up trembling and drenched in sweat. I can’t even look at a picture of a whale without having to look away, they are so scary. I’m not scared of dolphins or other fishes, only whales and especially the big, nasty ones, like the blue humbacks. Everytime I told someone of my fear they laugh and say whales are the least scariest thing on the planet, but I beg to differ. I’m relieved someone shares my fear as I thought I was the only one in the world.

Brian O'Malley has a column about his fear of whales. Like many other people, he is petrified of whale pictures.

When is was in first grade, there was a photo in one of our science books that showed a group of guys in a row boat, just feet away from a blue whale's tail sticking vertically out of the water. It scared the heck out of me. I couldn't look at it anymore.

After that I only noticed it every once in a while, but in the last five years it's gotten worse. It's at the point where I'll see a whale on TV and my eyes will close and my head will jerk away from the screen without my control. It's a natural reaction. And sometimes, if I get a good look at a whale, I get these wicked shivers through my body.

I know what you're saying. "You never have to worry about whales." It's true. And for that I'm fortunate. It would be pretty hard to accidentally run into a whale.

But that doesn't stop it from being true. There is no name for a fear of whales, but I have it, so it exists. One site informed me that a fear of whales is a subcategory of thalassophobia: a fear of the sea.

I am pretty sure many other people have fears that just sound ridiculous like mine. I have friends who have some off-the-wall fears as well. Just about everybody has one thing out of the ordinary that freaks him or her out.

For the longest time, I didn't tell too many people about the whole whale thing, but lately everybody I know has found out one way or another. So now I hear whale references daily. One of my coworkers and I bought some fish to put into the newsroom. It didn't take long before the whale comments came rolling in.

Well my fear is out in the open and I'm not ashamed of it. Should I really be ashamed of being afraid of the largest living things on Earth? I don't think so, either.

Like I said before, I didn't chose to be afraid of whales, I just am.

My name is Joshua Wiley and I approve of, or at least strongly sympathize with, these messages!