On my planet, the only animals are plankton, krill, shrimp, etc., but no fish or land animals. The colonists on this planet have brought equipment and embryos from the home world, but the only freezer that didn't malfunction contained the whale embryos. The colonists have to have meat and dairy, which the whales can provide in vast quantities.

My question is this, how can these whales be domesticated and forced to basically be farmed?

What kind of infrastructure would be needed, what kind of selective breeding would be required, and how long would it take? For the purpose of the question, the climate is similar enough to earth to be compared to whales here.

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    $\begingroup$ It feels like if the colonists have the sort of tech level you describe they could synthesize meat and dairy, or just go vegan. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ Got a specific breed of whale here, or are answers free to choose? also...do the colonists have food reserves to initiate this farming system? Whales could be farmed, though they take a while to get to the point where they are breeding and harvestable. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ For whatever it's worth, I believe there is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke named "The Deep Range", in which whale herding is depicted. Evidently it was later adapted into a full-length novel. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ Arthur C Clarke: The Deep Range $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ Why not just eat krill? They can provide animal protein, and minerals. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 10:18

4 Answers 4


I believe the answer you are looking for is free range. No one likes a whale in a cage!

Whales often visit the same areas every year. You can have a harvesting bonanza once a year and stock up your food reserves. Think this sounds implausible? We only have one harvest of grain a year, sugar takes two years. We bring it in all at once, and store it for the rest of the year.

Various regions harvest at different times, and sell any excess to their neighbours. So you can have cross country distribution of your whale meat providing all year coverage. You will have to harvest alot, and find a way to preserve the meat without it going rancid. Whale biltong just does not sound right!

Australia cattle farming is a good example of what I'm talking about. The cattle are fully domesticated but have huge huge ranges. Farms are so big, the farmers have to use helicopters to quickly find where the cattle are. It used to take weeks to bring the cattle in on horseback. Now I think it takes a few days to a week on quad bikes.

You will probably need to try keep the meat as fresh as long as possible. The entire planet doesn't have a handy freezer like the Eskimos.(sorry if that word offends anyone). You will need a vast network of whale hunting and harvesting boats and ships. Technology level up to you. You will track your whales and maybe keep constant tabs on them to reduce finding times when you get hungry. Whale shepherds!

You then know how many whales you can take in each harvest and still keep a healthy genetic pool. Harvest any whales that refuse to breed!

Ensure that any sea captains that have a grudge against any white whales are only allowed to captain a ship when said white whale is not pregnant or nursing.

Along the same lines, alot of the beef meat we eat are from the males (sorry guys). You only need a few stud bulls to fertilise the breeding females, dairy cows (maybe you could investigate utilising the whalecows milk. I think you will have to invest in some scuba gear). Maybe your genetic engineers can tinker with a couple of genes and make it obvious from a surface viewers point of view if they are about to harpoon a male or female. I'm thinking skin colour or something 'small' like that.

While you are busy genetically modifying the whales. If you track the whales you will figure out which ones are breeding faster and more often. Kill off the slow and lazy ones. Allow 'survival of the fittest' to take its course.

If you can keep tabs on the whales, co-ordinate all along the coastline and with your vast mobile armada of whale hunters (sorry, caring whale shepherds),you won't necessarily have to 'domesticate' and 'tame' the whales. Ostrich are farmed for both their feathers and meat and they are certainly not considered domesticated.

EDIT considering you new world only has plankton, krill and whales...No predators. You can remove the young from their mothers a few months (maybe 6months) after they are no longer dependant on mother's milk. No need to protect a youngster for 2-3 years if there is nothing to protect against.

You may have to move the young to some aquariums completely removed from the ocean so that they don't communicate with mother dear. Let mother grieve for awhile and a few months later to a year she could possibly be pregnant again. This will increase productivity!

The youngsters meanwhile are being handled and dependant of humans and will become 'friendly' and not perceive us as a threat (suckers). Once these youngsters are brainwashed they can be released back into the wild to feed themselves.

A few years later...yummy steak on your table.

I sometimes wonder about the way worldbuilding brings out the absolute evil in us all!

  • $\begingroup$ I'm really digging this answer. It even helps me! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 19:48


The same problem is here for why elephants were not domesticated for food; birth rates. It can take anywhere from 11 to 18 months for the whale pregnancy to end, and even longer to raise; this means that the time it takes to make large quantities of whale meat are not worth the calories you benefit from it.

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    $\begingroup$ "Tame elephants have been recorded since the Indus Valley civilization around 2,000 BCE" ? $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @NexTerren yes, but not for food, for war mounts. The questions asks for food, I'll edit to clarify though $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ A baby blue whale comes out at 5000-6000 lbs...that much food weight after a year long pregnancy is not bad, no? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth yes, but usually you want to allow them to get bigger for either breeding or more food $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @NexTerren check out this video. Tame ≠ domesticated. youtube.com/watch?v=wOmjnioNulo $\endgroup$
    – Cody
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:56

Whales are a terrible animal to domesticate. Their generation time is very long (5-10 years for blue whales), and a human could do only a few rounds of selective breeding in their lifetime. Although then again, rapid maturation would probably be one of the top traits selected for. Still, it would probably take more than a century. Domesticating foxes took about 50 years, and whales breed much more slowly than foxes.

There's also the question of where you would keep them. Whales are large and powerful. How would you trap them? In a small, artificial pool they might get stressed from lack of space.

It would probably make more sense to just let the whales roam wild and come up with some gadget to locate them. Without predators or parasites, they would quickly (well, relatively quickly) overpopulate. You can then go catch them, milk them, and let them go. The ones that are aggressive or otherwise undesirable can be killed or sterilized as a negative selection to cause domestication in the very long term.

Alternatively, perhaps the embryos might be genetically engineered to be domesticated already? That would be a nice way to explain why they haven't been domesticated before as well.

By the way, whale milk is very high in fat. It would be very thick and cream-like, and much harder to drink than cow milk, and recipes would need to be adjusted. Although it would work for tea and coffee.


I think it can be managed. Whales were already hunted for food and most whale species are doing well. The main problem is the whales that are adaptable and manage to survive the hunting are the ones that feed on fish, squid or similar larger animals. Additionally, it requires time for them to grow into adulthood and this translates very slow selective breeding process.

However, there is a type of whale feeding off of everything, including the ones you have listed and still is listed as least concern for being threatened: Minke whale. Additionally, these whales have shorter pregnancy and become adults between 3 to 8 years. If your expedition chooses this whale for its adaptability, they may use them as food source. Here are few information sources: this and this.

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    $\begingroup$ "Whales are already hunted for food and most species are doing well." <- no, whales are only hunted for food by a tiny percentage of the human race (the Japanese), and they mostly do so illegally.. When we did hunt them (for various reasons), we almost caused their extinction. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ They were hunted for a very long time. We stopped doing it after a time with some sort of an international agreement. I will change the text to reflect it was in the past (not too far tough) But not all species became endangered because of hunting. The reason is adaptability. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM - don't forget the Nordic populaces and Canadian inuit. They are already pretty sustainable practices though $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 16:23

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