As part of my research for a book on the psychological, spiritual, and
cultural significance of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) as evinced in classical
and New Age myth, art, dreams, various genres of fiction, and human-cetacean
encounters, I've collected and analyzed the themes in several dozen dreams in
which dolphins and/or whales played a significant role.
Before examining the major themes in these dreams, however, I will briefly
discuss the broader association of cetaceans with dreams and the dreamtime,
followed by an overview of the meanings assigned to cetaceans in dream and
symbol encyclopedias from the turn of the century to the present.
If you ask a person who has had a waking encounter with a dolphin or whale
what it was like, one of the most common answers you will receive is, "It
was just like a dream." I personally distinctly recall having this feeling
the second time I swam with wild dolphins. The thought, "Am I
dreaming?" kept repeating itself in my mind.
Also, if you survey book, audiotape, and videotape titles about dolphins and
whales, you will find several containing the word "dream,", such as
Dolphin Dream, Dolphin Dreaming, Dolphin Dreamtime, Journey into Dolphin
Dreamtime, and Deepwater Dreams. The group Enigma has a song entitled
"The Dream of the Dolphin," and the last intriguing line states,
"Man is the dream of the dolphin."
Associations with dreams are also common in mythological and fictional works
with cetacean characters, where you will find they communicate with, or
influence, humans in the dreamtime. I'm reading two books right now, one science
fiction, the other based on Maori mythology, and in each the dolphins and whales
contact humans, or transport them from place to place, in the dreamtime.
Dreamtime connections between cetaceans and humans are also present in other
native people's lore, including that of Australian Aborigines, Native Americans,
Why would humans have this response in the presence of dolphins and whales,
or write about them in relation to the dreamtime?
On the simplest level, unlike us terrestrial humans, cetaceans exist in the
water realm, the realm of ceaseless movement and formlessness, a realm with a
timeless, dreamlike quality. It is also interesting to note that since they are
conscious breathers, dolphins and whales never sleep as we do, as they must
remain at least partially vigilant to avoid drowning. What they seem to do is
rest one half of their brain at a time, while the other half remains alert
enough to breathe and monitor their environment. There is also some controversy
among scientists about whether or not cetaceans themselves dream, with the
consensus being that they do not, although at least one scientist claims to have
observed brief periods of REM in a captive dolphin.
What does this imply? To posit an answer to this question, one has to leave
the realm of science and enter the realm of speculation. Some surmise that since
cetaceans do not sleep in the sense that we do, and because of the state an
aqueous environment tends to induce, they may be in a kind of perpetual state of
lucid or wakeful dreaming, and perhaps that is one of the reasons we tend to
experience the sensation of dreaming, or altered perception, when in their
presence. It is interesting to consider that some humans work for years to be
able to enter at will a state of wakeful dreaming, seeing it as a doorway to the
higher realms, to the dreamtime of the aborigines, and so on, and yet this, or
something akin to it, may be the constant state of dolphins and whales.
In another vein, sometimes the initial or only contact people ever have with
cetaceans is in their dreams, and it can be life- changing. Rebecca Fitzgerald,
who facilitates wild dolphin and whale swim expeditions through her company
Dolphinswim, was working as a psychotherapist when she began to dream of
"spotted" dolphins (which she didn't know existed) in very clear
water. The dreams recurred for ten nights, first with only a couple of dolphins,
and then each night more appeared until there were uncountable many. The dreams
suggested to her she would be working with these dolphins and taking people out
to interact with them. The dreams became very intense and insistent, so much so
that she asked for them to stop. After they ceased, she went to the library to
look up "spotted" dolphins and found there was, in fact, such a
species. About four years later, she read an article in a Jungian magazine by a
psychologist doing dolphin therapy with autistic children, and observed how
dolphins place no expectations on us, whereas human therapists inevitably do.
She knew immediately that taking people out to spend time with dolphins was what
she wanted to do, quit her psychotherapy job, and has been taking people out to
swim with the same pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins in the clear waters of the
Bahamas for the past several years.
With that introduction, let's now take a look at what dream and symbol
encyclopedias over the past century have said about the significance of dolphins
and whales in dreams. It is interesting to note that in the early part of this
century, when we knew little about dolphins and whales, other than the dangers
and difficulty of harpooning them from small wooden boats in an unforgiving
ocean, they were viewed as bad omens in dreams, whereas now, given our
perception of them as primarily gentle, playful, curious, intelligent,
cooperative beings, they are viewed as very positive, even spiritual signs,
symbolizing divine or pure qualities, good fortune, and transformation.
A dolphin in a dream may symbolize the liability to come under a new
government, said in the encyclopedia to be "not a very good dream".
A whale in a dream may symbolize a misunderstanding to be cleared up in time,
or a delayed wedding.
A dolphin in a dream may symbolize loss of a sweetheart[5, 9], death of some
near relation or friend, or pursuits not to one's advantage. If about to
travel, it means great danger. If a single man or woman sees a dolphin from
the deck of a boat, he or she should guard against the wiles of designing
members of the opposite sex.
A whale in a dream may symbolize the threat of a loss of property if it
approaches or attacks your ship, and/or it may throw you into a whirlpool of
disasters. If you catch a whale on a line, there may be an improvement in
c. 1970 - present
A dolphin may symbolize advancement through your own mental
vigor; encouragement to grow without fear; speed and prudence; joy and
ecstasy; great intelligence; god-like qualities or divine light; resurrection
and salvation of Christ or oneself[2, 6].
In mythology, the dolphin is a psychopomp, one who guides souls to the
afterworld, and is also associated with Dionysus, the god of liquids and
dissolution. Thus, a dolphin in a dream may signal some kind of transformation.
A whale can symbolize the world, the body, and the grave, and is an essential
symbol of containing and concealing. From this flows the dream significance
of the whale as an omen of protection. If you see the tail flukes, it
signifies that freedom from worry may soon be yours.
Also related to containment is the Jonah symbology. Being swallowed by a
whale in a dream signifies a dark period in the bowels of nature or a terrifying
inversion in which you see under the waters of the unconscious, but also find
the power of the inner world and are born anew[1, 3], or transformed.
This theme of transformation is apparent in native people's cetacean myths
and in cetacean art as well, so it is not surprising that it would be present in
The whale may also signify the realm of the feminine in dreams, whether the
unconscious or the Mother[1, 4], because of its enormous cavities, and is
also the symbolic equivalent of the mystic mandorla, or area of intersection of
the circles of heaven and earth, comprising and embracing the opposites of
existence. (The most significant dream I've ever had occurred over two
decades ago and contained two orcas tossing a big, soft, vinyl-covered ball back
and forth between them in perfect harmony, and the vinyl covering was in the
form of the yin-yang symbol. I knew little about the yin-yang symbol at the
time, but, like Rebecca above, went to the library to learn more about it after
the dream. It is interesting to note that in the course of my recent research
I've come across more than thirty examples of dolphins and/or whales overlayed
on, or otherwise associated with, the yin-yang symbol. This relates to the
primary theme I've found associated with them across all categories--that of
harmony and balance.)
The whale may also signify a pleasing achievement in social or business life,
despite much opposition.
And, finally, the whale may signify spiritual magnanimity. It appears in a
dream as a form of recognition from higher sources. Now, toward the close of
the twentieth century, it is an honor for a whale or a dolphin to appear in
Having taken a brief look at some of the symbolic significance attributed to
cetaceans in dream and symbol encyclopedias, let's turn to the themes one finds
in actual dreams of dolphins and
The most prominent theme in the dreams I've collected is that of the dolphin
or whale helping the dreamer to overcome fear, especially fear of the
water/death. Often in these dreams, a dolphin or whale will take the dreamer
either gently or forcefully down into the water, which can be frightening, even
terrifying, at first. The dreamers then find, however, that the dolphin or whale
protects them, or that they can breathe underwater, and that the underwater
realm, or the realm of the unconscious or emotions, is safe. This newfound
ability to breathe underwater also relates to the earlier discussed symbology of
transformation or growth.
A related theme found is that the dolphins or whales communicate they'll
always be there to protect the dreamer. One person always tends to dream of
dolphins and whales when she is going through a crisis and finds they soothe and
Many dreamers say they experience a kind of
deep/wordless/telepathic/profound/reassuring/anciently wise communication from
dolphins and whales in their dreams, and that this communication seems to put
them in touch with their (the dreamers') deep spiritual nature. They awaken from
these and other dolphin and whale dreams feeling--the most commonly used words
are "serene" and "peaceful"--but also happy, energized, or
blissful. Some dreamers are shifted from a gray or depressed state to a lighter,
happier mood, which many also claim happens when meeting a dolphin or whale in
the waking state.
Often there is physical contact by the dolphin or whale in a dream, usually
somewhere at the head, sometimes at chakras, which in every dream I've collected
thus far results in bliss, heart- opening, etc.
In some of the dreams, the dreamers become a dolphin or a whale and feel what
it is like to have a dolphin or whale body, but not usually dolphin or whale
consciousness. They are accepted as a member of the dolphin or whale social
group and invited to return.
In one dream, a dolphin was a profound sign of healing and fertility, the
dreamer becoming pregnant shortly thereafter, after many years of infertility.
Dreamers also tend to receive messages from cetaceans in their dreams, or
other humans in their dreams give them messages about cetaceans. Some examples
of messages from dolphins or whales include:
"We come to warn you--about the end of the world."
"Tell the children this: Tell the children there will be a world for
them to grow up in. Tell the children this: Man is not the only species to
determine the fate of the earth."
"Movement is the key to interspecies communication."
Some examples of messages from humans include:
"I am going to tell you something very important: You must listen to the
dolphins." (This fourteen-year-old dreamer said this dream, which contained
more than this statement, was one of the most important he had ever had, that
his way of thinking completely changed after having it, making him kinder and
better able to comprehend the unity of all species.)
"Writing data dolphins requires a little metaphor." (This was
recently said to me by another human in one of my dreams.)
A final prominent theme in the dreams I've collected is the beating and/or
slaughter of dolphins and whales. This image, and those dream messages above
about the state of the world, all tie in with one strong symbolic aspect of
cetaceans as found in science fiction and New Age mythology--that of dolphins
and whales as environmental messengers, calling us to take heed of the
consequences of our actions by observing what it has done and continues to do to
them, and ultimately to us.
In summary, dolphins and whales in the dreams I've gathered seem primarily to
call us to transcend our fear, falling out of our mind and into our feeling and
reconnecting with peace, joy, bliss, and serenity. They also, however, call us
to take heed of our destructive actions and thus mend our relationship with
them, ourselves, and the planet.
1. Chetwynd, Tom. How to Interpret Your Own Dreams (In One Minute or Less).
New York: Bell Publishing Co., 1980.
2. Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.
3. Crisp, Tony. Do You Dream?. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1972.
4. Dee, Nerys. The Dreamer's Workbook. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire,
England: The Aquarian press, 1989.
5. Frank, Edward Allen. The Complete Book of Dreams. New York: Warner
Books, 1938, 1966.
6. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Dreams. New York: Crossroad,
7. Miller, Gustavus Hindman. 10,000 Dreams Interpreted or What's in a
Dream. New York: Rand McNally & Co., 1985. (Reprint of an
8. Rain, Mary Summer. Earthway. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.
9. Raphael, Edwin. The Complete Book of Dreams. London: Foulsham, 1992.
10. Robinson, Stearn, and Tom Corbett. The Dreamer's Dictionary. New York:
Taplinger Publishing Co., 1974.
11. Waring, Philippa. Omens from Your Dreams. Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell
12. No author. Dreams: Hidden Meanings and Secrets. London: Tophi Books,
1987. (Reprint of an earlier work.)
13. No author. Mystic Dream Book: 2500 Dreams Explained. London: Foulsham
& Co., n.d.
14. No author. The Universal Dream Book. London: Foulsham, 1958.