If you light a fire on the back of a whale, thinking it is an island, and drive stakes into its back, thinking you are on sandy land, you will almost certainly be tossed and turned into the sea.



When the fish is hungry it opens its mouth very wide, and breathes forth an exceedingly sweet odor. Then all the little fish stream thither, and, allured by the sweet smell, crowd into its throat. Then the whale closes its jaws and swallows them into its stomach, which is as wide as a valley.
– Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 13)


The monstrous whale known as aspidochelone was characterized by two distinctive behaviors. First, the whale possessed the ability to entrap its prey, usually fish, through the emission of a sweet, seductive odor released from its mouth. Unsuspecting fish were attracted by the scent, only to be devoured when the whale’s cavernous mouth snapped shut.
“Bad to the bone”?  The Unnatural History of Monstrous Medieval Whales 

This poem is so fun to say aloud and it nearly is sensible:

Cethegrande is a fis, / The moste that in water is. / That thu wuldes seien get, / Gef thu it soge wan it f let, / That it were a neilond / That sete one the se sond. / This fis that is unride, / Thanne him hungreth he gapeth wide; / Ut of his throte it smit an onde, / The swetteste thing that is o londe. / Therfore othre fisses to him dragen. / Wan he it felen he aren fagen. / He cumen and hoven in his muth; / Of his swike he am uncuth. / This cete thanne his chaveles luketh, / Thise fisses alle in suketh. /
– Middle English Bestiary (British Library Arundel MS 292) [13th century]



When whales were monsters…

In medieval society, animals served as “scapegoats, mirror images and representations of human reality.
– "Bad to the bone”?  The Unnatural History of Monstrous Medieval Whales


teratology now means a study of deformity, in the olden days it referred to monsters

writhing sea monsters of the deep… whales were monstrous

hell lay inside their mouths (jonah’s experience)

they were often depicted with horns and scales.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 6:6): Whales (ballenae) conceive through coition with the sea-mouse. (Book 12, 6:7-8): Whales are immense beasts, with bodies equal to mountains. They have their name from emitting water, for the Greek ballein means emit; they raise waves higher than those of any other sea beast. They are called monsters (cete) because of their horribleness. The whale that swallowed Jonah was of such size that its belly resembled hell; as Jonah says (Jonah 2:2): “He heard me from the belly of hell.” – medieval bestiary



Hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) is a toxin found in tissue samples of sperm whales. It’s a known carcinogen, mutagen and teratogen (”makes monstrous”). A compound used in the pigment and metal industries, it can easily make its way into water sources and out into the ocean if industry’s proper waste disposal methods are sloppy or ignored.