Friday, 5 March 2010


They swim right up from my subconscious, whales, and I can’t stand it. People ask why I hate them so much but really I don’t, I just hate the way they make me feel. I have some curiosity about them, I respect them a great deal, I am a vegetarian and environmentalist after all, but somewhere along the way reverence has tipped over into fear. I am terrified of whales.

It began ten years ago with the same recurring dream in which I am standing on a girder a couple of feet above a choppy sea at the side of an oil rig in the dead of night. The water is swelling round my ankles and it is raining and I am desperately trying to keep my balance. Up from the inky depths comes the whale and scrapes its back across the girder to try and dislodge me. Its back goes on forever. I shout into the night. I am so frightened I cry. The whale scrapes some more.

The fear in this dream spread into my waking life. Remember those old Athena posters with the whale tail disappearing into the water? I once had to move to the other side of a waiting room to avoid looking at it. I can recall vivid images that have troubled me: the closing scenes of Attenborough’s The Blue Planet with the aerial shot of mother and baby blue whale swimming side by side is one. Various whales eyes are fixed in my mind. Worst of all is the scene from Castaway where Tom Hanks is on a raft adrift at sea and a whale surfaces alongside him. I wanted to illustrate this point with a still from the film but I couldn’t find one and the prospect of seeing it again was making me sweat. I found the script instead. Here’s the scene:

Chuck lies on the raft, sick and weak.

Suddenly, from the depths beside him, silently rises a huge

A SPERM WHALE, still mainly submerged. The blow hole is near
Chuck, wet and pulsing like giant lips. The eye of the whale
is only a few feet away. It looks upon Chuck out of an
intelligence deep and alien.

He slowly comes to his knees and stares at it.

The blow hole opens and WHOOSH, out shoots a geyser of fine
spray which settles on Chuck in a mist.

The whale rises farther, dwarfing the raft. From the whale
comes a deep sound like a foghorn.

Startled, Chuck jumps back, rocking the raft. He catches
himself, slowly reaches out and touches the whale.

The horror is as much in the diction as in the scene: ‘silently rises a huge shape’, ‘submerged’, ‘blow hole’, ‘pulsing’, ‘eye’. And this most of all: ‘an intelligence deep and alien’. Therein lies some of my terror of the whale. In the paranoid depths of my phobia I believe the whale has some kind of agenda: why must it be so big? why does it swim for miles and eat only plankton? What is the whale for?

Here is ‘The Kraken’ by Tennyson:

Below the thunders of the upper deep,

Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Even though I might sound deranged, I am not alone. I have two friends who have come out about their cetaphobia (oh yes, it has a name) and
there is a website which, given the necessarily irrational nature of phobias, can’t help but pinball between hilarious and deeply frightening. Here is the introduction:

‘Some sufferers report very dire fear of whale-attack, while others are frightened only of the sounds they make. Some report a suspicion of malevolence or predatory intent, while others see whales as benign but unpredictable. Their sheer size intimidates some, as well as their inky domain in the deep sea. Some fear the gigantic Blue Whale, while others fear only the Orca.’

Regard some of these quotations from other cetaphobes that I could so easily have written myself:

‘I think it is the combination of the ocean and the whale that makes the terrifying scene. I mean, the size of the whale makes it intimidating but the ocean itself is overwhelming as hell ...The worst scene I can't stand is a whale in the ocean at night.’

‘[Whales] just seem like they're up to something. How could they not be? They have the largest brains on the planet, and you want to tell me that all they do is swim around and sing?’

Just so you know,
when the killer whale Tilikum dragged his captor under the water and drowned her in front of the viewing windows at SeaWorld I didn’t feel vindicated, but I wasn’t in the least surprised.


rrrich said...

I *heart* Whales

RenterGirl said...

Greg, as a fully qualified psychoanalyst, I would like to make the following observation, based on years of study: YOU ARE A FREAKING WEIRDO!!!!!! (nb the word verification required to post this comment was 'finge.' Isn't that a bit rude?)

Gregling said...

'Finge' must be a LITTLE rude surely?

Ally Seedy said...

Aaargh! Horrendous, I have a phobia goddammit and then I go on my blog and it's there. You unfeeling bastard sir x