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Classics Stories - Whales in Science Fiction and Literature

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Totemic Animals and Fiction

Whales became the focus of the endangered animal movement of the 1970s, just after the first Earth Day was declared and books such as The Greening of America (about money, waste, and greed), and other warnings against misusing resources gained momentum in the media.

In 1851, Moby Dick featured a white whale as the object and symbol of a man's obsession with revenge upon his environment. Sometime before 1700, Canadian First Nations and Pacific Northwest Native Americans created masks and totem poles to depict the whale (and other animals) and its related stories in tribal creation myths and their current lives. The whale is a mighty symbol.

Whale in Haida traditional art form by Bill Reid (1920 - 1998). Whales carry wisdom and are chiefs of the sea.

Whale in Haida traditional art form by Bill Reid (1920 - 1998). Whales carry wisdom and are chiefs of the sea.

Moby Dick: Adventure, Meaning and Space Opera

Moby Dick, the epic tale of the Great White Whale and Captain Ahab's obsession with it's capture and demise, is not likely a film one can watch every day. It is complex, heavy with symbol and meaning, and can be tiring in any of its remakes. Its themes contain material about politics, racism, religion and belief, and class differences and injustices in society.

One 20th century remake with Patrick Stewart (Picard, Star Trek, The Next Generation) as Ahab is quite good, reminding me of Ahab's final words spit with venom in the dying breath of Kahn Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Star Trek® has hired many Shakespearean and classic actors in its 45-year run as of 2011, and it seems some of its stars are connected with whales. The Wrath of Kahn, in which Kahn was Ahab and Captain Kirk was Moby Dick, led soon to The Voyage Home, in which a pair of whales, George and Grace, were transported from the 20th C., where they were endangered, to the 23rd century, where they were extinct.

A powerful, attacking alien society wished to communicate only with whales in order to assure that the planet was worthy of continuance. George and Gracie presumably repopulated the oceans with humpback whales to save the planet long term.

The Whale in Symbology

The song of whales sound often like the trumpeting of elephants underwater and both animals have been said to represent wisdom, intelligence, and even kindness in one culture or another.

We now know that elephants and whales both have complex languages and seem to be sentient (see links below). Whales have passed down tunes through their own generations, including tunes heard in the belly of slave ships tightly packed with Africans as they crossed the Atlantic during the earliest days of the slave trade. Perhaps the whales thought the ships were larger whales, singing.

Regardless, in the latter 20th century, scientists discovered humpback whales in the Atlantic singing the tune to a former African song, now used for Amazing Grace. Further study revealed how whales passed song to their young, like aboriginal human oral traditions -- Interestingly, some groups call the whale "a record keeper for eternity."

Scientists now understand how songs are passed from creature to creature over the distance of vast ocean basins and give each of the 11 populations of humpbacks around the world a unique song.

— Marissa Fessenden, October 5, 2015

Based on all this, I cannot watch Moby Dick every day, but I can watch The Voyage Home every day. it is Alice in Wonderland with spaceships and whales; and at one point, Kirk calls the whale curator "Alice" after she first experiences the Transporter Effect - rather like passing through the mirror.

Ahab's SpeechesKahn's Speeches

He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it... Aye, Aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up.

He tasks me...he tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him round the moons of Nebula, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.

The Voyage of the Pequod from the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

The Voyage of the Pequod from the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

The message of "The Voyage Home" is that neglectfully allowing a species of whale to become extinct endangered every living thing on Earth.

Humor and Whales in Science Fiction

To a new viewer, The Voyage Home unexpectedly contains footage of one of the most entertaining comedy skits on film, acted by veteran black-hat western character DeForrest Kelley and Canadian voice and character actor James Doohan. Moreover, the film is full of comedy. Under the direction of Leonard Nimoy, many of the scenes inspire laughter.

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Captain Spock's attempts at using 20th century epithets (parodied in the more recent film Paul) grow more hilarious by the dozen, until he final gets it right on the way back to the 23rd century with a cargo of whales. Spock and Kirk's objections to overly loud punk music from a boom box on a San Francisco bus is also funny, but not for the face-pierced grunge that falls under the classic Nerve Pinch. The passengers applaud.

Spock's references to 1980s pulp writers as the giants of current literature is also funny. Chekov's arrest and questioning as a Russian spy in 1986 is hilarious. When Pavel is injured, McCoy and the Enterprise crew take over a hospital wing, growing new organs with pills, criticizing 1980s medicine as barbaric, and creating havoc.

As with many effective comedy actos, Kelley and Doohan mastered comedy later in life and career. Other actors in this category include Leslie Neilson and Lloyd Bridges as well as Darren McGavin. These men began acting in science fiction and adventure films and series like This Planet Earth; Sea Hunt; Riverboat and Kolchak:Night Stalker. They went on to make us laugh in the Naked Gun film series, the Airplane comedy films, and the annual favorite, A Christmas Story.

All of the actors in this paragraph are now deceased and film footage is the only way to visit them again. Kelley and Doohan as professor-engineers from Scotland with advanced technologies no one in the US has seen are sublime. Their opinions of "quaint" pre-Internet computers in 1986 are both disgusted and funny - all the more comic after the public gained wide Internet access in the mid-1990s. Viewing these scenes becomes funnier every year.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was used as the Cetacean Institute for Star Trek: The Voyage Home. The aquarium has expending their programming since that time and has become a popular tourist and local visitor attraction.

In addition, the organization dedicates a large portion of its efforts to conservation and sustainability with a system of programs called Save the Oceans on their website. One of these is a smart-phone app for choosing ocean-friendly seafood restaurants.

The aquarium promotes official marine protected areas (like national parks under the sea) and sponsors conservation legislation such as the sustainable seafood bill AB 1217, passed and signed into law.

Now, California fisheries can receive help in gaining international certification for seafood sustainability and market their products as sustainable.

Whales Weep Not, Quoted in Star Trek, the Voyage Home


  • Corby, J. Afternoon Show with Corby. WTVN Radio610; 1995.
  • Hammond, P.; Heinrich, S. and Hooker, S. Whales: Their Biology and Behavior. Comstock Publishing Associates; 2017.
  • Mellville, H. Moby Dick. Richard Bentley Publishers; October 18, 1851.
  • Morton, A. Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us. Ballantine Books; 2004.
  • Star Trek: The Voyage Home. Paramount; 1986.
  • Whitehead, H. and Rendell, L. The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins. University of Chicago Press; 2015.

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 21, 2016:

@Marion - The information came from AM Radio news back in 1995 in my city. The announcer reported that scientists on the East Coast took whale recordings from the Atlantic Ocean, filtered the songs through computer programs/sound system and found the melody Amazing Grace. The melody was an African song that the many slaves in the ships sang together. Whales swimming beside the ships heard the song.

The Smithsonian has a 2015 article stating that Paul Knapp Jr. recorded whale song in 1992 and found melodies very similar to Gregorian Chants. Contact the Smithsonian and see if they have any more detailed information at this time. They may have something not published yet.

Marlon on April 21, 2016:

Do you have any more info or an article about whales passing Amazing Grace to their young? Or info about the slave ships? I love that image and I would like to include it in article I am writing. But I'd like to know more. Please post.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 05, 2011:

A brilliant hub, of course so well worded and thought provoking. This world could be so beautiful and enjoyable if man would behave themselve.

chspublish from Ireland on May 02, 2011:

We should be grateful for these wonderful beings who recognise our sentience, it would seem. Whales allow us to see the interdepndence of nature itself and our close bond gives us a priveleged position. Thanks for the hub on our fellow beings.

JasonPLittleton on May 02, 2011:

Great hub, I've enjoyed to read this one heheh :)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 01, 2011:

Thanks for reading this instead of the newspaper, susiebrown48! I'm happy that my take on this subject was worth the read.

Shelly - it was fun to write as well.

susiebrown48 from Clearwater, FL on May 01, 2011:

I woke up this morning, got coffee, sat down to review emails and received my "New hubs by your favorite authors" email. This Hub was the top of the list, and although "Whales" have never been particularly on my radar, I thought "Why Not?" and started in to read.

Not only was the subject matter fascinating and I learned much I didn't know, but your writing style is delightful to indulge in. I love the detail, the references to whales in literature. I'm so glad I opted for your Hub and not the newspaper! Knowing such glorious creatures are sentient refreshes my awe for this wonderful planet. Thank you.

Shelly Bryant from Singapore and/or Shanghai on May 01, 2011:

This is a fun hub! Thanks for the enjoyable read.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 30, 2011:

Thanks for these omments!

stars439 - Your stories always make me smile and the one about the squirrel is a gem that made me laugh.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on April 30, 2011:

Wonderful hub. Whales are magnificent. It use to make me ill when they would show pictures of them in ways I would rather not bring to mind. God Bless You Precious heart.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on April 30, 2011:

Whales often go alongside our ship (especially in Indian Ocean) showing their spouts on their backs, often in group. I think they're attracted with the noise of the ship's engine motor.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 30, 2011:

Thanks, Pamella99 - I quess I like both films :)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 30, 2011:

Whales are so interesting to study. I've always thought they were fascinating. I like the contrast you wrote between Moby Dick and Star Trek. Rated up.

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