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Whale Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

whale in water

Whale symbolism, in the past, has been linked to the world, the body, and the grave, and also to concealing and containing. Recently though, whales’ meaning is linked to embracing the opposites of existence. For this reason, the whale is symbolic of the mystic mandorla – the area of intersection of the circles of heaven and earth. Let us dive deeper into what do whales symbolize.

Table of contents

Whale Symbolism and Meaning

Nothing is more ambiguous and unclear as to the whale symbolism and meaning. After all, the depths of the ocean are not fully explored and resultantly, there is little we know about the whales. Different whales have different symbolic meanings and representations. 

The humpback whales symbolize peace, compassion, and love. They are mainly known for their songs, which, it is believed, they have learned from other whales or even from birds and humans. 

The humpback whales song can be heard thousands of kilometers in the ocean. The sperm whale, which has been extensively hunted for the perfume in its belly, has come to symbolize the fact that man has plenty of resources inside him. 

whale in water

The Moby Dick’s white whale symbolizes obsession, although many believe that it is a metaphor for atheism. The orca killer whale symbolism is linked to the reincarnation of humans, particularly Native Indian chiefs. 

The blue whale is the largest animal known to man and long before man started studying the whales in their natural habitats, the Northwestern Natives had made the blue whale a symbol of their totems. 

Today, a man just wants to hunt whales. The whale has lost symbolic meaning for us. Just like gray whales remain in their lagoons, man needs to remind himself of his basic nature: not surrounded by things he has built, but in a place that is untouched and pure.

Whale Native American Symbolism

The grey whale is friendly, the humpback whale sings, and the blue whale is the largest mammal on earth. Although none of the whale species combine all the different attributes of whales, it does not stop or diminish their symbolic appeal. 

And long before scientists and environment groups made it their agenda to save whales, the North Americans had been using the whale on the crests of their totems. The mysticism surrounding whales made them an important symbol of goodwill. (1

The whale was worshipped as Mama-cocha, or ‘Mother Sea’, among the Indians on the east coast of Central America. The orca killer whales were very special to the Salish Indians and legends about these creatures were abound.

whale in water

One story goes that a fisherman accidentally injured a killer whale. The killer whale then overturned the fisherman’s canoe and dragged him to the village of whales, where he was transformed into a whale himself. 

Soon there were legends circulating the orcas were, in reality, the native chiefs that had reincarnated as whales. A pair of killer whales swimming next to each other symbolized lifelong romance. 

No Northwest Coast Natives actively hunted killer whales (Orcinus orca), the largest member of the dolphin family. Killer whales were frequently depicted in the ancient art of Northwest America. They believed that the ancestral ties with whales would bring reprisal should they hunt whales.

Whale Eastern Symbolism

In China, whales are very important symbolically to the people of the Southern coastal areas. Here, the people believe that it was the whales that brought the millet seeds which sustain civilizations. 

They even honor the creature in special ceremonies. (2) Coxinga, the emperor of Taiwan, regarded the whale as a spirit animal. 

With the help of the whale’s divine guidance, Coxinga fought against overwhelming odds until his defeat drove him out to sea and over to Taiwan. 

All this happened at the time a lawless set of islands was inhabited by cannibals. Self-styled king of Taiwan, Coxinga’s descendants ruled the island for two decades.

whale in water

In Japan, too, there is a Cult of whales. Today, most of Japanese whale symbolism has been linked to conservation efforts and movements against whaling that has led to a large-scale reduction in whale numbers. 

Where whales were eaten on a large scale and whale-meat was a delicacy, today, the whale has become an important environmental symbol. 

In Hindu mythology, the whale is the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu when he comes in the form of Matse Avatar- or fish avatar. Thus, Hindus believe that the symbol of a whale is the primal deity or perhaps of the world.

Whale Christianity symbolism

According to some legends, mariners believed the whale to be an island. When they accidentally came close to a whale, the monster dragged them down to the depths of the ocean. 

As a result, spiritually, the whale came to be used as a symbol of the Devil and of his cunning. The whale’s open mouth was often depicted to represent the open gates of Hell. 

The whale also appears in the Biblical story of Jonah, who was swallowed by the whale and then disgorged three days later. As a result, the spiritual significance of the whale is related to Christ and His resurrection three days later. 

whale tail in water

Since artists in the Renaissance period did not have clear pictures or sightings of whales to assist them, they often showed Jonah’s whale as a dragon, a large sea-monster, or a big fish. (3

In Christianity and some Polynesian myths, Jonah’s passing through the belly of a whale was seen as a descent into Hell. 

According to Christian symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland, the whale signifies the Devil; the sands are the riches of this world; the ship is the body that should be guided by the soul, acting as steersman; and the sea is the world. 

When we put our trust most in the pleasures of this life and think we are quite safe, the Devil appears to drag us down.

Whale Celtic Symbolism

The whale is the largest living, air-breathing mammal. It has no neck, its nostril is on its head, and it has a large tail fin and a largemouth. In Celtic mythology, the supernatural swine herd Fruich reincarnated as a whale. 

Also, the warrior Daire was swallowed by a whale, much like Jonah. There is also a constellation named Cetus, which is Celtic for a whale. 

In Celtic regions, whales and dolphins are a symbol of water’s power. It also stands for the water’s abysmal powers, of uncertainty, darkness, and the unknown. Celts also believe that the whale brings man to a deeper connection with himself. 

whale in water

When Jonah ignores the call and takes on a regressive sea journey, God relentlessly pursues him. He then takes on the form of a whale and swallows Jonah whole. 

Jonah does not die, but he suffers fire, heat, and madness for 3 days and 3 nights. So he calls upon God by praying continuously. The whale who has been acting as a sheltering womb spits him out on the land. 

Jonah now has a renewed connection with himself and dedicates the rest of his life to carrying out God’s Command. (4) So, the Celtic whale symbolism is hell, darkness, womb, and fire. 

Whale African Symbolism

According to African myths and legends, whales and men have had a long standing relationship. Their sheer size is impressive and intimidating to observers. Whales and their smaller cousins dolphins feature in numerous legends and myths in Africa. 

The constellation Delphinus according to Hellenic mythology, was placed in the sky by Poseidon after a dolphin helped him find his bride. 

Dolphins and whale sculptures have been seen in art found along with Mesopotamia, Levant, Jordan, and in other parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. 

In Petra, carvings of dolphin symbols suggest their symbolic significance of helping the passing of souls to the Island of the Blest.

whale in water

Effigies of dolphins in the hands of the dead around the Black Sea symbolize that dolphin play a role in life and death and especially in passage to the afterlife. In some African myths, whales and dolphins are linked to birth, death, womb, and the afterlife. 

In others, they are conveyors of death. In the New Testament, God released whales as the first creatures in the sea. In the Arabian Nights, Sinbad comes to an island only to find it is actually a whale. (5

Whale populations are quite low on South African coasts, but that hasn’t stopped a man from hunting nearly 84 whales over a period of 30 years.

Whale in Dreams

A mother whale always protects her calf. Therefore, people see the whale as a symbol of motherly love. You could be dreaming of whales in times of need or when you need a motherly example to guide you. 

Whale dream meaning may mean that you are missing your mother if she has passed or you don’t see her as often as you like to. It can also mean the guilt of a mother who isn’t looking after her child as she has to. 

It can also mean that you must take better care of your child and nurture them. Whales are powerful spiritual symbols. So dreaming of whales means you must look up to the Lord and seek guidance from Him.

whale tail in water

Whales may even represent a threat in the dreamer’s life. They could also mean there is a big event that has got you bothered or something huge you are anxious about. 

However, in some dream interpretations, whales also symbolize peace, tranquility, serenity, and spirituality. Seeing a whale in your dreams can mean a good omen that everything in your life will be okay, spiritually, and in the matters of the mind and heart. 

Whales are a sign of protection and that you need to stop worrying. A whale in dreams may also ask you to take a look at the people around you, for some of them may be backstabbers. (6)

Whale Encounters and Omens

Whale encounters in antiquity have abounded in many tales. In the Gulf of Persia, ships encountered many of these large creatures. They alarmed the crew, so the ships would make formations in lines and charge at the whales to frighten them off. 

Whales near Iceland destroyed ships. Therefore, there are many curious legends about Icelandic whale encounters. The Icelandic fishermen divided whales into two categories: the good whales spouted high and were favorable to men. 

They even defended men from the attack of the bad whales. Fishermen believed in omens regarding whales. If they did not quarrel, the whales, they believed, would deliver fish into their nets.

two whales in water

Whales having two black spots on either side must not be killed, for it preserves the spirit of the moon. In New Zealand, a  whale stranded on the sand represented a deified man. Anyone eating its meat would become spiritualized. 

Some fishermen believe it is a sign of a storm if the whales lay about blowing and puffing. Seamen have a custom that when they meet a whale, they should throw him an empty tub by way of amusement and divert him from attacking the ship. 

Scotch whalers had legends about an invulnerable whale that was centuries old. If an earthquake happens, people believe that the whales were turning over or playing with their children. (7)

Whale Mythology and Folklore

The most important whale in mythology is the white whale in Moby Dick. Herman Melville based it on traditions concerning sperm whales that lived for several centuries. In Welsh mythology, there are stories about the whale Kyd or Cetus. 

Based on this, there is a Cetus constellation in the sky. In Italian folklore, a little girl is swallowed by a whale in whose belly she finds a palace, garden, and people. 

In a similar Roman story, a queen is swallowed by a whale who speaks, is heard, and liberated. In a Russian tale, a whale swallows an entire fleet and a forest grows on its back.

whale in water

In Native American mythology, a hero named Boin is carried by a whale in its belly to paradise. Boin pays his way in tobacco. 

That is why; Nova Scotia Indians believe that the whale’s spray from its blowhole is due to Boin’s tobacco smoke. 

Indians of Shoalwater Bay had a legend about a man swallowed by a whale. His brother rescued him by cutting open its belly. 

Similarly, Ojibwe Indians tell the story of the hero’ Little Monedo’ swallowed by a whale and rescued by his sister. Hercules was also imprisoned in the whale’s belly and some experts say that his cup was a whale. (8)

Whale Spirit Animal

With whale as your spirit animal, you will be given many power songs. You are a magnetic person with a high frequency emanating from a cellular level. You have formidable skills in communication. 

Your personality is also intimidating. However, like the whale, you have nurturing instincts. You take care of your young. You are sensitive to sounds, rhythm, and poetry. You even have the skills to take care of Mother Earth. 

The whale spirit animal will keep you purposeful and focused on your goals. Like your spirit animal, you love water. It will do you good to spend some time in the sea as that will recharge your batteries from time to time.

With the whale as your spirit animal, you can see the big spiritual picture and will always look for ways to take care of the planet and make it a better place. Whales have deeply spiritual origins. 

Some Native American tribes see the whale as the record keepers for the planet. In Western literature, starting with the Bible, whales have held a great place in spirituality. 

A common theme seen in all these legends is that the whale swallows the lead character and causes her/his transformation and rebirth. So, if a whale spirit animal shows up, then you may be on the path of spiritual awakening. (9)

Whale Totem Animal

To understand a whale’s role as your totem, you must understand whale personality. Whales breathe air, although they need to live in water. Humpback whale symbolism is linked to lyrics, songs, and poetry. 

These beautiful and mysterious animals are drawn to vibrations and sounds. Their song is considered to be an echo of the past. It is little wonder that these majestic creatures are believed to have ancient wisdom. 

Having a whale totem animal is the greatest blessing, for it will help you unlock great secrets and mysteries of the Universe. 

whale in water

Listen to the sound of the whale if you feel a little lost or sad. If you are working on a major project that needs creativity, inspiration, or if you are feeling overwhelmed, your whale totem can help. 

Ask your whale to give you wisdom and help you connect with the resources that are already within you. Listening to the whale will help you connect with the sounds inside you and give you all the guidance you need. 

The whale is waiting to share its ancient wisdom with you. Worry not; he is always there to protect you. Spend time near the ocean and also meditate on your totem animal’s aura. (10)

Whale Power Animal

Slavic and Arabian legends claim that four whales support the world. The Tlingit tribe of Alaska considered the orca whale an ancestral spirit. If the whale is your power animal, you are gentle and protective and as a mother, a whale takes care of its calf, so will you nurture your young. 

You make a great parent and you are deeply concerned about the environment and the mother earth. You are attracted to music, vibrations, songs, poetry, and the ocean. 

These things power you and strengthen you. The whale has been regarded as a powerful totem animal by native Pacific coastal tribes. Its teeth and bones are considered medicine as well as powerful amulets.

whale tail in water

Many seafarers wore these amulets as they were believed to have the power of overturning the enemy’s canoes and ships. Today, many species of whales are facing extinction because of relentless hunting for their meat and oil. 

Once-numerous, their numbers have greatly dwindled. You may want to consider supporting charities that work for whale conservation. Meditate on the whale’s song from time to time. You can also listen to whale music, especially before setting out on a  journey. 

Once the whale song is deeply imbibed in your soul, you will find it easier to make decisions. There will be clarity in your thoughts and you will find obstacles clearing away miraculously. (11)

Whale Tattoo Meaning

Whale tattoo meanings have undergone a renaissance in that; its symbolic and literal meanings have changed over the years. Once, they were tattoos of clansmen. 

Earlier, the Chukchi tribes hunted down sea mammals and only the person who had hunted a whale got a whale tattoo on his cheek. 

In the Arctic region, too, fishermen who had killed a whale could get it tattooed on their faces. Even the wives of the Chukchi would get whale tattoos if their husbands killed a whale. 

Today, anyone can get a whale tattoo and its meaning has become very personal. Since different whales have different symbolic meanings, the tattoo meanings of the whale also change. 

whale illustration

Today, the meaning of a whale tattoo can be spiritual, positive, or negative. Whales represent abundance and, especially when joined by their cubs, family, nurturing, care. Whales also have deep Christian symbolic meaning. 

Whale tattoos depicted with ferocious teeth indicate a killer attitude. Other sea creatures similar to the whale are the Dolphins. Dolphin tattoos symbolize playfulness, joy, friendship. 

For someone who has a whale as her/his spirit or power animal, or even as a totem animal, the whale represents strength and spiritual guidance. Discuss your vision with an experienced tattoo artist before getting inked with a whale tattoo.


Whale symbolism changes from species to species. An orca whale symbolism indicates a killer attitude. Humpback whale symbolism is more to do with songs, music, poetry, lyrics, and vibrations. In any case, whales are majestic, powerful, and magnificent creatures that carry ancient wisdom. I hope this guide helps you determine your own whale meaning.


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