Whale: Animal Dreaming

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Whale: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

So I know I’ve already talked a lot about whales but in the wild unknown post I focused on baleen whales so I thought this post would give me chance to consider toothed whales, such as the killer whale pictured.

There are 73 species of toothed whale* and as you might guess, instead of baleen, they have teeth!  In general toothed whales are smaller than baleen whales which is perhaps counter-intuitive when you consider the latter eats only teeny tiny food and the former is more prone to fish, baby whales and even seals.  Another difference is the baleen whale has two blow holes where the toothed whale has one.

Killer whales are an apex predator and are found in most of the world’s seas.  In order to find their food, toothed whales use echolocation.  This allows them to dive deeper, where the light is poorer, to hunt.  They are highly sociable animals and it is believed that different pods have adopted slightly different hunting techniques which are passed on to the new generation. Once they have found their prey, the killer whale’s strong teeth and powerful jaw grip on.  They don’t actually use their teeth to chew, swallowing their kill whole.

Killer whales have also been known to drive their prey onto a beach to feed on it which is a risky strategy as the whale can become stranded and will be crushed under their own weight if they are out of the water too long.  Perversely, they are not safe in the water either – if they cannot come up to the surface to breathe, they risk drowning.

There is also a theory, although how respected it is by scientists I don’t know, that whales engage in self stranding when they are ill.  Sacrificing themselves so that the pod as a whole is not infected, slowed down or hindered in some other way.  However, as whales have highly complex social structures, this can backfire; other whales may then strand themselves to try and help the first whale.  Regardless of the truth in this, it gives us an interesting and contradictory metaphor.  On the one hand we have the ill whale which gives us the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good and on the other hand we have the helper whales who are endangering themselves; who helps the helper?  We have a responsibility to look after ourselves first, if we don’t then we cannot help others.  The idea that if a man is down a hole, don’t get down there with him.  This echoes the situation the baleen whale mother finds herself in in the wild unknown card.

As we saw in the wild unknown, the whale is a creature of abundance for people and in dreamtime stories, the beached whale was a gift to the people.


* Note, the term toothed whales includes all species of dolphins and porpoises

Whale: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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Let’s start by watching a whale make a rainbow!

How awesome is that!

That was me easing you in gently as this is going to be a long post.  But that feels appropriate for this, the final card in the water suit, and one of the most epic animals alive today.

Whales are mindbogglingly massive and can be up to 34m long.  Blue whales are so big that a human baby could crawl through their arteries and they can weigh up to twenty three elephants.  Humpbacks come in a lot smaller at a mere 16m long and 6 elephants in weight which is still pretty impressive!

These giant aquatic mammals evolved from land animals and now live in the open ocean.  This tying together of land and sea is something we’ve seen a lot in this suit but when it comes to the whale, they are so well adapted to life in the water that they cannot survive on land.

As mammals they must breathe in oxygen so they have to come to the surface although they can hold about 5,000 litres of air so they don’t need to do it too frequently.  They also make efficient use of the air, using 90% of the oxygen compared to the 15% that humans use per breath…  When they release the unusable air, it is expelled through their blow hole.  This looks like water because the air they are breathing out is warmer than the environment so it condenses.  I think this would make a good basis for a cleansing meditation or ritual; what stale ideas and thoughts do you need to blow out?

Apparently whales are conscious breathers which I guess makes sense – if you’re many metres under the sea you want some control over when you breathe.  This however means they can’t sleep for very long.  We don’t know much about how they overcome this but in captivity, toothed whales have been shown to sleep with one side of their brain at a time.

This is actually quite a good idea.  Not literally sleeping with half your brain awake, but the idea that different parts of your brain may need rest after a while.  Like when you’ve been painting for a few hours and are getting tired, perhaps try switching to a documentary or going for a walk.  Stretching the metaphor a bit, for me, as I’ve mentioned before, there are certain things I need to do regularly and this activates different parts of my body and my brain; something creative, something intellectually challenging or stimulating, something restful etc.  I need this balance and this flicking between things or my mental health starts to suffer.

Another excellent lesson from the whale is the power of conscious breathing.  We’ve looked at breath work with the dolphin so all I’m going to say here is if you are in crisis mode, if you are overwhelmed, if you are feeling too much pressure, pause, take three conscious breaths.  It won’t change your circumstances but that pause can help how you tackle things.

In terms of food, we have two different things going on here.  There are whales which have teeth and whales which have baleen.  I think this is a humpback whale so we’re going to focus on the latter.  This group of whales have no teeth, instead they have plates of baleen which they use as a filter.  They take in a huge mouthful of sea and strain out the water, leaving them with a nice mouthful of krill and plankton.  This huge animal, lives on a tiny creature.  As you can imagine, they need to eat a lot and indeed, some whales can eat up to 40 million krill a day!  Because of their amazing ability to hold their breath, they dive deep for their food, often down to depths too deep for light to reach them.  Folk, do as the whale, dive deep and filter!

The life cycle of this majestic animal really helps us to understand them a bit better although the nature of their behaviour means we don’t really know very much about them.

First things first if you’re a whale looking for love, you’ve got to get where the other whales are.  Whilst some species are sort of social it’s all a bit vague and definitely not the tight knit groups we see with some water creatures.  So you’re heading off on a long migration towards the equator.  Some whales, some sharks and some turtles use magnetic fields in the earth’s crust to help them navigate which I thought was interesting.  I know work is being done with butterflies and birds to try and get a better understanding of migration patterns and how they know where to go which always seems an amazing feat.  Despite being a sea creature, it feels like the whale is reminding us to get in touch with the earth and listen to it’s wisdom if you’re not sure which way to go in life.

Once these magnificent animals have reached the equatorial waters, finding a mate begins.  As I said, we don’t know a lot about this – it happens out in the middle of the ocean.  It is thought that whalesong has a role to play in choosing your mate.  It is the male that produces the songs which last for up to twenty minutes and which are repeated for hours at a time.  The songs are highly sophisticated and continually evolving.  Sound is possibly used because it travels better underwater than light so is good for communicating over long distances; whale songs can travel for miles.  Some find their songs beautiful, I find them hauntingly sad…  But I’m not a musical person.  If you are, express yourself through sound, write the song you’ve got going round the edges of your mind, sing your heart out.

Once a female is pregnant, she has an 11 1/2 month gestation period before finally giving birth to normally one calf.

As a mother, the whale really presses us to make sure we don’t forget our needs, all of them, left brain and right brain, body and mind or however you see your holistic self.  The whale is a nurturing, tender and gentle mother.  To protect their little calf, they give birth in calm nursery waters.  This provides a nice easing into life for the baby but is really tough on mummy whale.  Nursery waters don’t have much in the way of food for mum and baby is drinking vast amounts of milk each day.  Despite this, they are protective, loving and supportive parents.  They have been seen holding their baby near the surface so it can breath when it’s tired as well as getting between predators who might fancy a nibble on the calf.  There is an element of sacrifice here which goes against the idea of meeting your own needs and looking after yourself first.  There is a time and a place for both.  Before baby was born, mum will have been eating lots in preparation for this period of hunger.  She put herself first before giving birth so she could put her baby first afterwards.

Let’s take a quick breather, have a look at a whale and her baby, before we dive into the second part of this post:

So we’ve learnt a lot about the whale, what about the whale and the world?

Within the sea, the whale plays an important role.  They apparently remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere making their survival really important for the planet.  And they aren’t just useful alive… Dead whales slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean and provide food for a lot of other animals at all levels of the sea.

Whales are massive and like other large animals around the world, this means they have been worshipped and revered for the abundance they provide us.  Think of how the bison is treated and you will get an idea of the gratitude that cultures have for the whales.

As humans we have a tendency to overdo things and so we have hunted the whale far too much.  But many years ago, the whale would have been an important catch but also one which was used wisely and carefully and was thanked for the bounty it provided.  Whales provide meat, oil, bones, blubber, baleen, sinew, gut etc which can all be used to eat, make tools, for fuel, to make thread and containers and in many other ways.  The whale was not gratuitously killed.  It was killed to provide for families who made the most of it.

There are a number of stories and beliefs which illustrate a reverence for the whale and it’s power.  In Inuit creation myths, a deity found a stranded whale and was told where he could find special mushrooms which would give him the strength to return the whale to the sea and by doing so, return order to the world.  An Icelandic legend tells of a man who through a stone at a whale and caused it to burst.  He was told not to go to sea for twenty years but of course he did and thus a whale killed him.  The whale is also seen as good luck and as holding a sense of the divine.

And breathe out, you made it to the end of the whale.  What can I say, a big post for a big animal seemed fitting… And this is the last of the physical beings in the wild unknown animal spirit deck.  Next we move onto the spirit suit, the realm of mythical beings.