living with cetaphobia

3 Permalink 0

hi, i’m shawna and i’m living with cetaphobia. what is cetaphobia, you ask? since there isn’t a wikipedia page on it (yet), i consulted google for a more clear explanation. in its purest sense it is the fear of whales. but i’m kind of in love with this definition of it via wiseGeek, a website that provides “clear answers for common questions.”

Perhaps it is true that the human mind has the capacity to imagine anything. According to anecdotal reports on the Internet, people who have never seen a real, live whale can suffer from bouts of cetaphobia, or a fear of whales. Apparently, watching movies with whales can induce this irrational fear. Cetaphobia, also known as mobyphobia, seems to preoccupy some people and be largely akin to the childhood fear of monsters.

Collective wisdom might propose that the occurrence of cetaphobia would be limited to Inuit tribe members or other indigenous people who hunt whales and have reason to fear for their lives. Japanese whalers might also be vulnerable to this dread, but apparently they have far more to fear from environmental groups, as commercial whale hunting was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986 due to fear of whale extinction. A 2007 clash between environmentalists and Japanese whalers resulted in a Japanese ship catching fire.

As of 2011 no information leads to cases of cetaphobia among the Inuits or Japanese whalers. Anecdotal reports do seem to indicate, however, that cetaphobia exists among people, especially younger people, who have watched the movies Finding Nemo and Free Willy. These people shared their phobia about whales in posts online. One woman claimed that her fear of whales was passed down to her by her mother. (via)

i think my favorite part of this whole analysis is the last sentence. apparently cetaphobia can be hereditary. in my case, it is not. though if i had inherited it, it might be a lot easier to justify. “i’m sorry, i was just born this way.” just like gaga said, too.

now i realize that fears are meant to be conquered. like those inspirational stories you hear about where a person deadly afraid of heights goes skydiving or someone who was afraid of public speaking goes on to give a speech in front of thousands of people. and you know what? good for them. i love when people overcome a personal hurdle. and in my own life, i feel like i’ve overcome some personal hurdles. maybe even a couple of actual hurdles, too. but as far as this particular fear goes, i’m kind of totally okay with just accepting it as fact. i may have gone so far as to embrace it.

so i feel it’s high time i come out with some hard evidence as to why such a level-headed (debatable) woman as myself would harbor such an irrational phobia. especially since i a) grew up so close to the pacific ocean, b) grew up in close proximity to sea world and c) grew up in the time of movies such as the little mermaid, finding nemo, and that based-on-a-true-story-movie where the whales get stuck in the ice in alaska starring drew barrymore and john krasinski. are you sitting down? this might take a while.

first of all, have you really looked at a humpback lately? i mean, objectively they are slightly terrifying. all of those barnacles growing on them, and that baileen, how creepy is that? they have spaghetti strings for “teeth.” also, their size. their sheer mass is completely unnerving. literally they could take you out in one swipe of their tail flukes. i get that they are not by nature predatory creatures, but just because they’re not actively pursuing me, doesn’t mean they won’t still wreak havoc. that’s why they call it “accidental” death.

then there’s the use of whales as mascots. or maybe not mascots, per se, more like branding images. for example, pacific life insurance insists on using a breaching whale (the worst of all of the whale positions) as their spokesanimal. i mean, that’s the main reason i don’t use them as my carrier (shout out to farmers insurance!). let’s just take a look at their logo. it is absolutely terrifying.

pacific life logo

i mean, why would you make this your company’s logo?

riddle me this, what does a breaching whale have to do with life insurance? nothing. actually, now that i think about it, you would need life insurance after that breaching whale came down on top of your kayak and killed you on account of its sheer mass. so maybe well played, PL. i get it now. on another note, before BNP paribas claimed its namesake, the tennis tournament in indian wells that my parents and i attend every year used to be sponsored by pacific life. that means for the entire day, i couldn’t even ogle at the likes of rafael nadal and andy murray in peace. i had to have images of breaching whales taunting me behind every tennis court and between every match. oof.

now for the nitty gritty. do we all need reminding of the countless news stories reporting on near death experiences between innocent kayakers, boaters, swimmers, fishermen, and/or surfers and whales of all shapes and sizes (but mostly humpbacks, which, as i noted earlier, are the worst of all)?

i mean, you’ve GOT to be kidding me.

and then there’s this video. which is funny because i don’t remember letting someone tap into my brain to film my absolute worst nightmare. i actually have no idea why i even watched it. there’s a high probability that i won’t be sleeping tonight.

now over the years, i have had many a “friend” (i use that term in quotes seeing as no real friend would ever send me such horrific video links) and co-worker send me youtube videos of breaching whales in action. and by “in action” i mean confirming all of my worst fears of being out in the ocean in a small boat and having a whale emerging out of the water so closely that it knocks the boat over and sends me twenty thousand leagues under the sea. i mean, i realize i do, in fact, know how to swim and i’d probably be wearing some sort of flotation device, but that is not the point. the point is, actually, i don’t think i even have a point. basically, if you love me, please don’t send me anymore links of whales coming dangerously close to knocking out a kayaker, mmk?

one word: jonah.

another word: pinocchio.

two men (go with me on the second one) that got swallowed by whales. swallowed. whole. left to live inside a whale belly. i mean, i rest my case.

anyway, i’m not sure if you’re any more convinced of my fear’s legitimacy than you were prior to reading this post, but i don’t care. i don’t need your endorsement to be affirmed that it’s completely normal to be fearful of giant blubbery sea creatures. and thanks to a google search, in the very least, i know that this girl agrees with me, too.

  • Sara
    September 5, 2020


    I just came across your article, and wow. I’m right there with you, sister. I’ve never personally seen a whale and have been painfully cetaphobic for years now. Before moving to Cape Cod two years ago, I underwent 6 weeks of intense EMDR Therapy in hopes of uncovering the actual reasons for this strange phobia. I also suffer from eating disorders and it’s been thought that my fear of whales is connected to my fear of being over weight, but I don’t buy it.

    Anyways, it’s nice to know their are others out there. It makes me feel a little less crazy.

  • Nicola Edwards
    December 15, 2020

    I had no idea there were others out there that had the same phobia as me! I don’t feel so odd and alone now 🙂 My phobia started back in the sixties when I was around the age of 7 -10 years old whilst watching a popular British television show called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau which had footage of a scuba diver swimming next to a whale. It still gives me the willies thinking about it! I have encountered so much ridicule when explaining my phobia (“oh they are such gentle creatures”; “you live in Herefordshire nowhere near the sea”; “you don’t look out of your window and see a whale” – I did!! A large model of a whale on top of a truck, advertising an exhibition, drove past my house!! – “I could understand if you were afraid of snakes or sharks, THEY can hurt you”) no one takes you seriously! I think it’s their sheer size plus the concept of deep, deep water that does it for me. And, annoyingly, I have just found that googling “cetaphobia” throws up links WITH PICTURES of the bloody things!! No escape ha ha.

  • Corinne
    March 12, 2021

    I laughed so hard over your description because, it sounded much like things I have said over the years. I’ve tried everything I could to face this fear including hypnotherapy…and, I’m still afraid. So grateful there are others out there because of all the jokes I’ve heard over the years and statements such as “now, you know they only eat plankton?!?”

    In the movie Cast Away when Tom Hanks was dangling his legs in the water…I was imagining a whale so when one did pop up,…yes, blood curling scream during the quiet scene…I got an ovation. So embarrassing! Anyway, thank you for posting as now I know I am in good company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.