When exploring whale meaning it is important to understand that there are two distinct suborders of whales. There are the toothed whales (Odontoceti) and baleen whales (Mysticeti). There are 26 species of toothed whales including the famous orca (or killer whale), beluga, narwhal, and sperm. The 10 species of baleen whales includes the humpback, gray, blue, right, and bowhead whales. Determining if your whale spirit animal is toothed or baleen will help immensely because they carry differing symbolism.
Paleontological records and molecular data indicate that all whales lived on land and migrated into the sea over 50 million years ago. Whale is a mammal like us. She must come to the surface to breathe air through her blow-hole and nurse her live-born young. Whale evolved spindle cells in her brain as long as 15 million years before us. These cells relate to self-awareness, compassion, and linguistic expression. As a warm-blooded animal living in cold oceans, whale relies on a thick layer of blubber as insulation. Legends say that whale spirit animal carries the history of the world, remembering back to the time when she was on land.
Magnetic Meaning of Whale
Whale is known to have a substance in the retinas of her eyes called biomagnetite, which causes sensitivity to the electromagnetic field of the Earth. She reads the electromagnetic field like a map and this helps her migrate across oceans. Whale symbolism speaks of the ability to find your way through the abyss using the pull of your soul’s compass. Others may think that somehow you magically “see” the way, but you know the map is coming through a different channel. You may not know how to explain this pull, but it is there.
True practitioners of the law of attraction don’t have to think of where to go, they are mysteriously drawn. Whale spirit animal brings a time of being “in the flow” with the law of attraction. She is where she needs to be when she needs to be there.
Generally, the electromagnetic fields follow coastlines, but in some locations these fields turn directly into the coastline. A significant amount of whale beachings occur in these locations. If you feel like you’ve followed your guidance onto the beach and now you’re stuck, wait. Either the high tide will come to haul you back in or you will experience a time of letting go. You are now at the mercy of fate. Before the rebirth must first come a death. Dive into the mouth of the whale to move through this process.
Belly of the Whale
The motif of the hero entering the belly of a behemoth is so prolific in mythology, that Joseph Campbell dedicates an entire chapter, titled “The Belly of the Whale,” of his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces to it. When a transformative process begins in our life we often expect that our outer world will shift. We think we’ll move to a new town, start an exciting new career, or meet someone who sparkles.
If whale spirit animal is with you, now is the time to adjust your expectations. This metamorphosis is going to happen inside the dark, wet belly of the beast. There is no use to fighting the process. You’ve already made it past the rows of sharp teeth. Like Jonah, put your time to use in quiet contemplation. The rebirth will come.
Sonar in Toothed Whales
Here is where we begin to make the distinction between the toothed and baleen whales. Toothed whales are closely related to dolphins and porpoises, and like their cousins, they use echolocation. The whales emit sounds, possibly using a nasal plug or their larynx, and then focus the sounds using a bulbous-shaped melon on their foreheads. The melon “points” the sound. This sound travels through the water until it hits a solid object and bounces back. The toothed whales then receive the sound in their lower jawbone and inner ear. Based on how quickly the sound returns and at what pitch, the whales can tell what is in front of them. Echolocation is so accurate that it can replace sight all together for navigation and hunting fish.
If you are working with a toothed whale spirit animal, bouncing ideas off of others may be a useful strategy. The ideas from your mind are like sounds coming from the whale’s melon. Putting your ideas out in the world to see how they are received will help you make sound decisions. Be sure to wait for the response before acting. Don’t get greedy with your ideas. Sound them out. It is not the ideas that will bring a reward, but the response to them that will tell you what opportunities are swimming around you at this time.
Sonar pollution from military activities is thought to interfere considerably with whales’ abilities to echolocate and, thus, efficiently hunt. This is one major environmental crisis among many threatening the lives of these beautiful animals.
Songs of Baleen Whales
Baleen whales have huge, flexible keratin plates in their mouths in the place of teeth that are used for filtering krill and small fish from mouthfuls of seawater. All whales have complex languages via which they communicate over long distances, much further than elephants. Sound travels efficiently through water, so animals who appear to be traveling solo are often coordinating their movements with other whales over thousands of miles of open ocean. Baleen whales go beyond chirps and clicks to songs.
Humpback whales are likely the most famous of baleen whales because of their elaborate, beautiful compositions. I had a tape recording of humpback whale song that I listened to as I went to sleep as a child. I still remember every note. There is emotion in their songs of many stanzas. There is something that calls us back to the origins of who we are, to love, and expansiveness.
The meaning of whale is getting caught up in the flow of a moving, uplifting work of art. The scientific name of the suborder of baleen whales is “Mysticeti” containing the word “mystic”. This speaks to the knowing that being moved by song is a mystical experience.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.