I just finished reading Ringworld (published October, 1970), in which at one point a main character wonders whether any whales were taken from Earth before they went extinct. According to the Known Space Correspondence,

Blue whales and sperm whales were extinct on Earth by 2850.

Reference: Ringworld ch. 24

It occurred to me that (TVTROPES WARNING) a lot of scifi uses the extinction of whales as a quick indicator of future environmental degradation.

What was the first science fiction work in which whales are predicted to go extinct?

Further qualifications: the extinction doesn't necessarily need to be tied to an environmental message, but it does need to specifically mention whales in order to qualify. I'm asking this question because I'm interested in when whales became a symbol of environmental fragility, or at the very least the natural transience of species. So a future in which "whales, dolphins, and jaguars" are extinct would qualify, but one in which "all life in the ocean" or "all life on Earth" is wiped out would not.

Addendum: let's hope they're all wrong :(

  • Star Trek IV featured extinction of a specific whale species (hunchback whales) and some aliens communicating with them, causing a disaster (oceans evaporating, climate changes). The heroes had to travel back to 20th century and retrieve a whale back to their time, so the aliens could get their signal and stop increasing the signal power. I think it was back in 1984. I doubt it is the first sci-fi movie mentioning that, otherwise it would be an answer.
    – TimSparrow
    Aug 1, 2017 at 10:14
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    @TimSparrow Ringworld is a lot older than that -- it came out in October 1970. So we'd be looking for something older than that date.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 1, 2017 at 13:34
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    Ishmael spoke of the extinction of the sperm whale (disparagingly, disbelievingly, but in comparison to the diminution of the bison herds) in Moby Dick. Not speculative fiction, IMO, but published in 1851. We're likely looking for something newer than that.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 1, 2017 at 14:03
  • Would "20 000 Leagues under the Sea" (1870) count ? Whales are not extinct in the book, but their extinction is predicted (due to human greed, which fits the environmental theme of the question - after all Captain Nemo is the self-proclaimed protector of the oceans), and at least when it was written it was speculative fiction. Aug 28, 2017 at 10:12
  • @EikePierstorff Maybe not ideal, but definitely answer-worthy. Aug 28, 2017 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


"20 000 Leagues under the Sea" was, when it was published in 1870, speculative fiction on account of featuring an electrically powered submarine.

While whales are not extinct in the book they are pretty much used as a symbol of environmental fragility when it says in chapter 12:

The barbarous and inconsiderate greed of these fishermen will one day cause the disappearance of the last whale in the ocean.

While not ideal this example fits the question at least inasfar as that the book has a strong environmental theme. Captain Nemo is a self proclaimed protector of the ocean life (with the possible exception of squids, sperm whales, dugongs and other creatures he finds offensive and/or tasty) and the book repeatedly warns of the damage human activity does to nature (fwiw, I think whales have become a symbol of environmental fragility because of the amazing speed with which the seemingly imperturbable giants were decimated, something which probably was more visible at Jule Vernes time - industrial whaling with cannon powered harpoons apparently started in the 1860s).

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