I have read about flying sharks that hunt birds and great monstrous flying whales, so I would like to know how a whale could conceivably start 'flying' in real life. I'm gonna just set Blue Whales as the standard here, they are about 30 meters or 99 feet long and weight about 173,000 kilograms or 173 tonnes.

I'm fine with making changes to their body and structure, as long as they still look like a blue whale and retain their size.

Gravity and atmosphere would be the same as earth. They should probably be able to fly at around the same altitude as commercial planes at around 11km or 39000 feet.

Try to figure out how big they can get too.

I'm not sure they would be able get above the clouds tho. enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a reference for the flying sharks? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ A Boeing 777 (Wikipedia) has a maximum takeoff weight anywhere between 247,200 kg and 351,500 kg, and a maximum landing weight between 201,840 kg and 252,651 kg, depending on variant. At 63.7 m to 76.5 m length, by any reasonable metric, they are about twice the size of your blue whales. Look at what it takes to get a '777 into the air. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ Related (/ duplicate?) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Try just calling it into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet. Of course, this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale. $\endgroup$
    – Scimonster
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ Nor a potted plant.....;-) $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 15:50

4 Answers 4


Note that whales have no wings, so they cannot fly like a bird or a bat; they would have to fly like a balloon or Zeppelin. Basically, you need to get their density down to less than the density of air.

Since whales can swim under water, their density should be approximately that of sea water, which according to Wikipedia is $1.025~\rm kg/l$. Air, on the other hand, has a density of $1.225~\rm kg/m^3$ — note the different unit. In other words, in order to fly, whales need to become lighter by a factor of about $840$. Or in other words, a whale that now weights $173~\rm t$ would then have to weight a mere $207~\rm kg$. That is, less than three average human adults.

Since you excluded the idea of their body essentially being a big balloon (which is the only way I see it could work), I'd say there's no way to get what you want. External balloons would only work if they are about $840$ times the volume of the whales themselves, which would make them less like whales with attached balloons than balloons with attached whales.

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    $\begingroup$ soooo, the best way to go around this is turning it into a balloon. I'll remove the limitation then. $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ Check out the book Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. They use essentially genetically engineered whale blimp things. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ that was an amazing book. it really got me into dieselpunk and was one of my favourite series for years. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 10:20

With the constraints you have specified (Gravity and atmosphere would be the same as earth), the way to get something the same size as a whale to fly is to use one (or more) of three different methods:

1) Reduce density of the whale (as a whole) so it is lighter than air. This could be done by making the skin out of something super-strong and super-lightweight, and filling the whale with hydrogen or helium, or by altering normal whale tissue into something that resembles aerogel. The book 'Tinker' by Wen Spenser did something like this. Size limit will be determined by durability of the body and stresses like high winds.

2) Apply a powerful enough force. Imagine a whale with a rocket strapped on. This would probably also require re-engineering the whale into a structure that could survive the stresses involved. Size limit will be smaller than the first solution even if you give the whales a skeleton made of exotic materials like carbon nanotubes.

3) Use a high tech or magical McGuffin. Antigravity, tractor/pressor beams, or magical weightlessness or flight. No limit on the size possible with this solution since your solution can be as wild or as improbable as you like.

The first two are science/engineering approaches (i.e. possible in our universe), the third requires your ability to alter your universe (since this is world-building). If you combine more than one of these solutions, the maximum size of your whale will be larger, but in general the problem will be designing a structure strong enough to deal with the stresses of flight. In real life, whales can get as big as they do because they are supported by surrounding water, which is why they can be bigger than any land animal.


If you can't fit the whale with wings, turn it into a big balloon, reduce gravity or make the atmosphere really dense, then your options are limited.

The Antonov An-225 Mriya would be able to lift that much weight (maximum total payload 253,820 kg versus whale-weight of 173,000 kg so no problem there) - the question is, would the whale fit in the payload bay without needing to be chopped into pieces?

The aircraft has the spacious cargo compartment with length of 43,32 m, width of 6.4 m and height of 4.4 m

Antonov: AN-225 Mriya / Super Heavy Transport

So we should be OK on length:

up to 30 metres (98 ft) in length

Wikipedia: Blue Whale

It's hard to find data on the width of a Blue Whale's tummy, but if we assume it's no wider than the tail, then we should be ok:

The width across its tail flukes (flippers) is about 6m (20 feet)

Cool Antarctica: Blue Whale

and on height we do seem to be roughly in the ballpark.

So in summary, this method meets the criteria in the question and should work OK, although the whale might have trouble squeezing its waistline into the plane - it might need to go on a diet first. If you could choose a slightly smaller whale, that would be helpful (173,000kg is particularly large, even for a Blue Whale).

You would need some way of helping it support its own weight out of the water, of course... (perhaps you could use the additional available payload weight to surround it with some kind of gel?) and some kind of a brain-computer interface, assuming you want the whale to pilot the aircraft itself.

Alternative answer: drop it from a really high place.


You'd have to have it full of lighter than air gas, if you want your whale to fly. Your other options are to cover it in stiff armour, so that its spine doesn't snap under its own weight, or a series of wings along its length to provide uniform lift. Both these options are energy intensive, not least since they involve adding to the mass of an already huge load. Far better to have an inflatable bladder that it can fill with hydrogen, generated by bacteria in its gut, to compensate for its own weight and have wings evolved from flippers for propulsion.
If the bladder extends along the length of its body, the only support the skeleton needs to provide is against air pressure. Thus, the bones can become hollow and so, lighter. The blubber is needed for insulation, especially in the jetstream, but the amount can be reduced. Instead, you'd want a hardened outer skin to withstand the cutting (and drying) effect of high winds.

Food will be an issue, unless you also have flying seafood. This is what will limit the size and number of your whales. The more effort the whale spends per kilojoule (or kilogram) of nutrition obtained, the less there is available for growth.


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