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What Is Cetaphobia and Do I Have It?

What It Means for Everyday Life

What Is Cetaphobia and Do I Have It?

Cetaphobia is a medically recognized phobia of large fish, or more specifically whales. It comes from the Latin word Cetus which means large fish, and the Greek god of fear Phobos (he was the son of Ares).

To outsiders, this might seem like a silly and really irrational fear as you're not exactly likely to come into contact with a whale in your everyday life are you? No, but it doesn't make the fear any less real when you see one. It's not a silly phobia, no phobia is silly, it's something people have no control over, they didn't choose to have it, and sometimes it can have a bigger impact on their lives than people can ever imagine.

What are the causes of cetaphobia?

Like any other phobia in the world, the reasons for someone to fear whales will be unique to them. They could have seen a film about whales as a child or adult and been frightened by it, they could have had a horrible experience in the ocean, or, there could be no reason behind the fear, they might just be afraid of whales.

How badly could it affect your life?

Worse than you think, I have lived with cetaphobia my whole life and of course I don't come into contact with whales on a regular or even semi-regular basis. But this doesn't mean my phobia makes no difference to my life, quite the opposite. I live by the ocean, it might seem an odd place for a cetaphobe to live, but there is a backstory behind it that I won't bore you with.

Because of my fear of whales, I haven't been in the ocean for about 20 years, not even to paddle to keep myself cool on a hot day. I can't do it, I can walk close to the water thanks to years of trying to overcome my fear, but I can't go in it. The idea of going in the ocean fills me with a fear that I am definitely going to die. Not because I think that I will drown, but because I think that I will get swept out and there will be a whale there ready to tear me to shreds.

Am I right? No, I know it sounds insane and I know whales are, for the most part, beautiful and peaceful creatures who are only doing what they need to do to survive and they mean no real harm to humans. But all I think is, what if?

I also remember taking a trip to the Sea Life Center as a child and looking at all the fish, and I became so convinced that I was going to see a killer whale that I started hyperventilating and passed out.

My point is, it's a genuine fear, don't mock anyone for it because you don't know how bad it might be for them.

Symptoms of Cetaphobia

The symptoms of cetaphobia are like any other really:

  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Muscle Tension
  • Dry Mouth
  • Upset Stomach
  • Urge to Flee
  • Nausea or Sickness

These are due to the primal fight or flight response being triggered.

The severity of the condition will also be unique to each individual person, for example, some people are fine watching shows with whales in them, but come simply can't stand the thought. I am the second one.

Treatment for Cetaphobia

If it is having a really negative impact on your life then I would recommend trying to talk to a professional. Explain your situation to them and hopefully they will be of some assistance.

I have been trying to cure myself of the problem since I was about 13, and I haven't had much luck, I am better than I was in that I can now look at pictures of whales without walking away, but videos and anything moving still brings about the feeling of panic and the need to run.

Cetaphobia might seem trivial to those that don't have it, but to those that do, it can have a big impact on their lives.

Claire Raymond
Claire Raymond
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Claire Raymond

I have been a writer for 14 years now, I'll figure it out one day.

See all posts by Claire Raymond