Whales are some of the largest things that swim. Mysterious giants of the open ocean, they've spent millions of years swimming the seas, often as apex predators. In modern times, sperm whales plunge the depths of the ocean to hunt giant squids, and even baleen whales will devour enormous amounts of prey.
So it's no surprise that, for centuries, it was very common for whales to be portrayed as Sea Monsters. Creepily enigmatic at best and outright malevolent at worst, whales were frequently cast in a negative light. For centuries (even millennia in some places), the most common image of a whale in many cultures was a violent, ravenous beast that devoured everything it could and destroyed whatever it couldn't. Tales abounded of unlucky people being Swallowed Whole by whales, to the point that "Belly of the Whale" became a metaphor to describe a dangerous and difficult to escape situation. Sperm whales in particular were hit with this image, due to how dangerous they were to hunt.
However, the general public's perception of whales has changed over the last few decades as a result of science learning more about them. In the 1960s, it was discovered that whales — previously thought to be mute — made vocalizations underwater. The 1970 release of the album Songs of the Humpback Whale helped re-characterize whales as intelligent, peaceful creatures that deserved protection, kickstarting the "Save the Whales" movement. As a result, whales are nowadays far more likely to be depicted as gentle giants, and even antagonistic whales tend to be portrayed with at least some sympathy. Unsurprisingly, portrayals of whales as brutal monsters have largely fallen by the wayside. While seemingly monstrous whales do still appear from time to time, they're now far more likely to be portrayed as benevolent or at least neutral (if sapient) or as acting like normal animals rather than ravenous beasts (if nonsapient). Even if a whale is portrayed as genuinely threatening, chances are it'll be the exception rather than the rule.
Given how old this trope is, it goes without saying that many of the examples are not particularly accurate to real whales. They may combine features of various species together— it's not uncommon to see a sperm whale depicted with the massive teeth of an orca and the grooved throat of a baleen whale, for example. Other times, especially in older works from the Middle Ages and earlier, they might not look like whales at all, instead being an example of Informed Species. Check a medieval map, and you'll often find strange creatures with boarlike tusks and fish scales, only discernible as a whale by the waterspouts from their head.
Sub-Trope of Sea Monster. If the whale is large enough, this may overlap with Kraken and Leviathan. For other marine mammals portrayed in a similar light, see Monstrous Seal, Wily Walrus and especially Devious Dolphins (which negative portrayals of orcas fall under, despite them being popularly known as "killer whales"). Compare and contrast Space Whale, which takes the "big, mysterious swimmer" aspects of whales and puts them in space instead. Also compare Killer Gorilla and Cruel Elephant for other cases of a large, intelligent mammal being portrayed as scary.
- The Kushan Empire can mutate animals into shock troops, including a whale that takes on elephant characteristics like a long trunk, reverting to its original form once killed.
- A trolual appears during the Elf Island arc to highlight the mythical world merging with the real one. Thankfully it doesn't attack or even come within sight of the ship, it just shows up to eat a Sea Serpent that was about to eat a seabird.
- Pow from Bleach is a huge, towering Arrancar whose transformation let him become a colossal whale-man hybrid with a baleen-like throat, incredible physical power and weight.
- Digimon Adventure: Subverted with Whamon. He first appears as a creepy-looking cyborg whale who swallows the Digidestined whole, but he was Brainwashed and Crazy by a black gear. Once they free him he goes on to be one of their major allies, showing himself to be a Gentle Giant and serving as their Living Ship.
- In Re:Zero, the White Whale is a demonic land whale that has been The Dreaded for 400 years. If a giant flying whale that hunts people isn't terrifying enough, it also possesses a mystical fog that's capable of Ret Goneing anyone it touches and erasing all trace of them from history.
- Whale King Moon from Toriko is the most powerful of the Eigth Kings who rule the Gourmet World. It belongs to a species aptly named "Black Hole Whale" and swallow pretty much anything it encounters. To further enhance the supernatural vibe, Moon's stomach leads directly to the equivalent of the Netherworld.
- The Carta Marina, a decorative sea map famous for the immense variety of sea monsters it depicts, includes "pristers", the monstrous whale-creatures typical of the time, as the most common sea creatures it features. Examples include one large enough to have been mistaken for an island by sailors, and one — specifically identified as a balena, the Latin word for whale — being attacked by an equally monstrous orca.
- Magic: The Gathering: While they're not the most commonly-featured type of sea monster in the game, immense whales have appeared on a number of cards.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: While all whale-like monsters technically qualify, there are some that are especially good fits. Fortress Whale and Citadel Whale are some very scary-looking monsters that resemble a cross between a sperm whale (though they appear to have baleen) and a fortification with turrets.
- Hellboy: A sea witch captures Hellboy and says that to end the threat he poses to the world, she'll feed his hand to a certain whale, apparently the oldest living creature, and once it dies and falls into a pit there will be nothing left of the Antichrist and the world (more specifically, she) will finally be safe.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: In the Wonder Girl Impossible Tale in issue 111 a giant whale that looks like a combination sperm and pilot whale attacks Renno the merboy and a sea-centuar. Diana saves them by tricking the massive whale into attacking its own reflection until it knocks itself out.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: At least one undead whale was part of the undead forces set against Ami.
- Finding Nemo: Subverted. While a whale does end up very nearly consuming Marlin and Dory, it does so unintentionally, and it turns out to be friendly, giving them some advice that helps them escape its mouth before it can accidentally swallow them.
- The Pagemaster: The albino whale from Moby-Dick puts in an appearance, first appearing on the mural of the library ceiling. When Richard and his friends are traveling over sea, he sees Captain Ahab, whose entire crew is quickly wiped out by the whale, which then circles back to attack Richard's boat as well.
- Pinocchio features Monstro, a huge, aggressive whale that swallows people whole and whose name causes panic among other sea creatures. This is a deviation from the original book, where the sea monster is a "terrible dogfish" (that is, a shark).
- Kujira Gami: This 1962 film from the company that later released the Gamera series features an unusually large North Pacific right whale, which terrorizes a small fishing village and prompts one of their men to try and kill it after it destroyed his family, while a brutal drunkard also comes to the village, intent on killing it himself. (The film's plot is apparently inspired by Moby-Dick.)
- In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, cachalots are described as hulking monstrosities who are mostly teeth and jaws. Anyone not familiar with archaic species names might be forgiven for thinking that Jules Verne was describing mythical beasts rather than sperm whales. That being said, this is a bit of a deconstruction, as Nemo's wanton slaughter of them to protect a pod of baleen whales (which sperm whales don't even prey on) is not portrayed in a positive light: professional harpooner Ned Land doesn't bother hiding his contempt, and the massacre serves as an early indicator of Nemo's less savory side. The message is clear: even if they are monstrous, that doesn't give humans the right to massacre them wholesale.
- Good Omens: While not explicitly described as a whale, the kraken awakes to destroy Japanese whaling ships.
There is a tiny metal thing above it. The kraken stirs.
And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance.''
- Just So Stories: In "How the Whale Got His Throat", it's explained that the whale was once a great predator known for devouring just about anything... until he wound up biting off more than he could chew when he tried to eat a castaway sailor, with the end result being that he could only eat tiny things from then on.
- In Keys to the Kingdom, Drowned Wednesday's fate is getting cursed into a Leviathan sized whale. In this form she's so big she can get mistaken for islands and her Horror Hunger makes her eat people whole.
- Moby-Dick: The title character is undoubtedly one of the most iconic examples of this trope. He's an incredibly destructive and fearsome albino sperm whale who's so notorious for killing whalers and destroying their vessels that he's speculated in-universe to be some kind of malevolent supernatural entity.
- Doctor Who: Subverted in "The Beast Below", where a Star Whale is attached to Starship UK, a space-faring colony built upon its back. At first, the Star Whale seems like a Monster of the Week who eats victims given to it (which nearly includes the Doctor and Amy). However, it's later revealed that the Star Whale was the real victim, as the government of the colony had been torturing it in order to control its movements. The twist is that the Star Whale had actually come to help the colony on its own free will. Thus, once released from its pain, it's able to move faster and without suffering.
- Stargate Atlantis: In the episode "Doppelganger", a malevolent alien parasite sets up shop inside people's minds to induce their worst nightmares. Rodney's worst nightmare is being alone at sea, stalked by a monstrous whale that wants to swallow him. Apparently, his father had read Moby-Dick to him as a child.
- Walking with Beasts depicts the prehistoric whale Basilosaurus as a fearsome predator, hunting smaller whales, sharks and elephant-ancestors that wander into the ocean. Appropriately, the episode featuring it is called "Whale Killer". Ironically, the Basilosaurus is also the protagonist of the episode, with the plot revolving around a female looking for a safe place to give birth.
- The Decemberists: "The Mariner's Revenge Song" features an absolutely enormous whale that's implied to have human-sized (if not larger) teeth. It attacks two ships without apparent provocation, sinking them both and devouring most of their crews.
- Voltaire: In "The Beast Of Pirate's Bay", the twist is that the titular Beast, which was built up as a great, big, ravenous sea monster, is actually a whale. It's also subverted: the whale isn't beastly, but was beached and in great pain, so the narrator created the Beast rumor to keep people away from it.
- The Bible:
- In the Book of Jonah, the dag gadol (literally "great fish", but could refer to any kind of gigantic sea creature) that swallowed the title character after he was thrown overboard has long been imagined to be a whale.
- The Leviathan is frequently depicted as a whale, or at least as having whale-like qualities.
- Medieval bestiaries claimed whales would wait at the surface of the water, luring sailors onto its back and then diving, dragging the sailors with it.
- Classical Mythology: In the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, Poseidon sends a man-eating Sea Monster called Cetus to terrorize Aethiopia, and in a similar myth, he sends another cetus to punish King Laomedon of Troy. The cetea of myth are usually described and depicted as Sea Serpents, but as the name was also used for any large sea-creatures, such as whales, the cetea are occasionally depicted as whale-like. The modern term "cetaceans" (i.e. whales and dolphins) is derived from cetus.
- The Ziphius of British and Scandinavian nautical folklore is a whale-like, man-eating sea monster that is terrifying to behold because of its ugly, beaked, owl-like head, and which can and will sink ships with its knife-like dorsal fin. While the Ziphius is originally based on the swordfish (Xiphias in Greek), its descriptions may also be influenced by the orca or "killer whale". Since 1823, the name has been appropriated by science as the Latin taxonomic name for the family of beaked whales (Ziphiidae).
- The Trolual (a Latinized form of "trolval", meaning troll-whale), is one of the more familiar sights on Renaissance ocean maps. It's a type of tusked whale large enough to have vegetation growing on its back, and it's known to take a proactive approach in killing humans by crushing and capsizing their ships.
- Icelandic folklore generally didn't depict real whale species this way, especially not the blue whale, which was imagined as benevolent and heroic. However, it did have some imagined whale species called illhveli ("evil whales") that fit this trope to a "t", being devoted to the destruction of humans and benign whales and taking sadistic pleasure in the death and devastation they cause. Notable species include the raudkembingur ("redcomb"), a bloodthirsty predator that will die of frustration if its prey escapes it; the mouse-faced mushveli, which can clamber on land to pursue targets; they stökkull ("jumper"), which has eyes obscured by hanging folds of skin and leaps in the air to smash ships to flinders; the sverdhvalur, which uses its sword-like dorsal fin to slice ships open; and the cowlike nauthveli, which lures cattle into the sea to kill. The sole exception is the skeljungur, which is described as Not Always Evil (and unlike other illhveli, its flesh is edible).
- The mythology of the Pacific Northwestern Amerindians gives us the Tsemaus, generally depicted as being whale-like. It's typically imagined as disguising itself as driftwood so it won't alarm the people it encounters until it's too late for them. Like many examples, it goes out of its way to sink boats and kill humans, but unlike many examples, it can swim up rivers. Some folklorists believe it to have originated as a personification of water hazards like snags.
- On the North American West Coast there is also a flood story about an evil whale that kills other whales but doesn't get Thunderbird's attention until it also starts causing floods on land so it can kill animals there too. Thunderbird blows its flood waters back into the ocean, then dives in and pulls it to shore, where the evil whale slowly dies of dehydration.
- Downplayed in East African mythology. Whales generally aren't depicted as malevolent or particularly aggressive, but they're gluttonous to the extreme and will almost always prioritize satiating their appetites over the needs and concerns of others.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Leviathans are sea monsters that resemble disproportionately large whales. They are inscrutable and intermittently aggressive; a leviathan will periodically attack anything crossing into its territory, smashing ships to flinders and swallowing sailors whole, before vanishing off the face of the earth for decades at a time before resuming its attacks somewhere else entirely.
- Behemoth Whales are a subversion. They're certainly gigantic (commonly reaching over 1,000 feet long and 400,000 tons) and have been known to swallow ships whole... but they're generally neutral in alignment, and rarely attack sapient creatures unless provoked.
- While most whales are portrayed, realistically, as peaceful filter-feeders, exceptions exist:
- Great white whales are immense, highly aggressive beasts capable of going toe-to-toe with powerful sea monsters and entirely happy to attack passing ships.
- Crimson whales are ferocious, red-skinned beasts adapted for preying upon large creatures, which in their minds of course includes ships.
- Faceless whales, native to large bodies of water Beneath the Earth, are albino-white, eyeless creatures that live as solitary predators, using a form of echolocation powerful enough to serve as a sonic weapon to prey upon other subterranean horrors.
- Bakekujiras are the undead husks of whales who died lingering, painful deaths after being attacked by whaling vessels. They're animated by nothing more than lingering hatred, their flesh animates anything that eats into an undead thrall and they will viciously attack any ship or coastal settlement they encounter.
- Thalassic behemoths resemble absurdly large sperm whales with crablike claws; they are living embodiments of divine wrath sent to the material plane by gods wishing to make their displeasure with mortal behavior clear and unambiguous, and are more than capable of destroying entire coastal cities.
- While most whales are portrayed, realistically, as peaceful filter-feeders, exceptions exist:
- Middle-earth Role Playing : Demon whales are immense, predatory cetaceans native to the Ice Bay of Forochel. They're distinguished by their white or pale grey hides, five-inch teeth capable of shearing through steel, and penchant for swallowing people whole.
- Warhammer: Behemoth, a creature that occasionally turns up in side games and background lore, is a giant white sperm whale with a narwhal's horn that it uses to sink ships and a maw filled with six-foot-long and razor-sharp teeth.
- In Dishonored, whales are hunted by humans (as they are in Real Life), but are monstrous borderline Eldritch Abomination versions of the creatures we'd recognise. They have giant razor teeth, tentacle-like protrusions around their mouths, and some connection to The Void. Pandyssia, the native land of the plaguebearing rats, is also said to be home to land dwelling variants.
- Don't Starve: The Shipwrecked DLC introduces two types of whales, Blue Whales and White Whales. Blue Whales are neutral creatures that will flee from the player and avoid them unless attacked first, while White Whales — whose appearance includes solid red eyes and a harpoon sticking out of their back — are hostile, and will attack players on sight. When inspecting a White Whale, Wendy, WX-78 and Webber all remark on the beast outright hating all that it sees.
- Dragon Quest IX has several whale enemies, notably Lleviathan (a story boss that's actually a transformed human, the real one is fought after the game is beaten) and the high-end undead Flying Seafood Special pale whale and stale whale.
- Endless Ocean: Sperm whales are normally peaceful creatures, but one in particular, an albino specimen named Leviathan, has a reputation for being very dangerous and aggressive, attacking and capsizing ships, fighting off orcas — which normally prey on sperm whales — and earning the title of the White Terror from the locals, who despise it. In a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, however, the actual Leviathan spawn is peaceful and will not attack the player.
- Fallout 4: While you never encounter any, throughout the game you'll occasionally hear people spreading rumors about massive "ghoul whales" that supposedly haunt the ocean.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy IX has whale zombies, undead floating whales with most of their skeleton exposed.
- In Final Fantasy XIV, Bismarck is the Primal worshiped by the Vanu Vanu as "the White". It's a massive, whale-shaped monster with no eyes, wing-like fins covered in feathers, and a massive gaping maw with More Teeth than the Osmond Family. Unusually for this trope, this whale flies, forcing the Warrior of Light to do battle with it atop an airship.
- Kingdom Hearts: Monstro, from Pinocchio, serves as an entire Womb Level in the original game (where he swallows the Gummi Ship when the cast is heading from Agrabah to Atlantica), Chain of Memories and Dream Drop Distance (as a sub-level within the "Prankster's Paradise" world), and a boss fight in the Final Mix version of Birth By Sleep.
- Skies of Arcadia: Played with. The Gigas are ancient destroyers of which one specimen was made by each civilization to be their weapon during the wars. The Purple Civilization went at it uniquely by converting an arcwhale into their Gigas, Plergoth. Once the Purple Civilization collapse, Plergoth went its own way, becoming the only Gigas to roam freely and gaining the name "Rhaknam" ("Mobys" in Japanese). It and the party member Drachma become expies of Moby Dick and Ahab after Rhaknam causes the death of Drachma's son. Rhaknam eventually dies when his body is at its limit and Drachma, taking pity, forgives it. For all the danger Rhaknam was presented as posing, it is the only Gigas that is not fought for its crystal.
- Moby Dick Back From The Deep: Moby-Dick is made one in this comic. In the book, he's a white whale. In the webcomic, he's an ancient, undead, giant whale big enough to fit ships in his mouth.
- Unsounded: Typhoon Whales are vast, primordial entities from The Time of Myths, flying over the oceans and bringing hurricanes in their wake.
- Mortasheen has a huge variety of vampiric sea animals, but the largest of them is the Vampiathan — a vampire whale that feeds by engulfing prey in its cavernous mouth and draining it of its blood.
- RWBY provides one in Monstra, a titanic, flying whale-like Grimm that is also Salem's personal "flagship".
- Bojack Horseman: Jeremiah Whitewhale is a human-sized anthropomorphic whale who is a monster in the metaphorical sense: a Corrupt Corporate Executive who mistreats and outright murders his own employees. He is still a "giant" in the business sense and "swallows" smaller companies by buying them out similarly to how a real whale swallows its small prey.
- Futurama: In "Möbius Dick", the Planet Express crew is attacked by a massive white Space Whale lurking in the Bermuda Tetrahedron. Leela becomes obsessed with hunting it down a la Captain Ahab, which is apparently what the whale is counting on, as it hunts by swallowing particularly obsessive captains to feed on their obsession.
- Though its descendants, the modern sperm whales, were probably the original inspirations behind the depiction of whales as monsters, the prehistoric whale Livyatan melvillei may very well be the closest to actually living up to the image. At an estimated forty to fifty-seven feet long, it was one of the largest predators to have ever lived, living up to its Biblical namesake. An apex predator in the Miocene oceans of 10-8 mya, it not only competed with the giant shark Megalodon, who lived alongside it, it may have been the only species the giant shark genuinely feared.
- As pointed out in the Walking With... entry, other prehistoric whales were all hunting other large marine lifeforms rather than filter feeders. Basilosaurus was an apex predator in its day, although its body is much more slender than most modern wales, hence its Non-Indicative Name, as it was initally mistaken for a reptile.