This article discusses one of the sidequests for Breath of the Wild and therefore contains minor (though mostly insignificant) spoilers for the game.
Now that I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild for quite some time, there have been a few sidequests in my adventure that I’ve found rather fascinating. One in particular that stood out to me was the “Leviathan Bones” sidequest. Upon hearing the term “Leviathan” and seeing the skeletons of these gargantuan creatures, I instantly became intrigued. Not only could I tell what kind of real world animal they shared a likeness to, but I could also relate these to a few previous Zelda creatures as well.
Making all of these connections, the wheels began turning, and the thoughts began to flow. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Leviathan in a Zelda game. We’ve seen them alive and in the flesh in many instances dating all the way back to Link’s Awakening. Much like Zoras, Gorons, Redeads, Tingle, and much more, Leviathans have become a recognizable element in the Zelda franchise, though we may not have even realized.
Leviathans of legend
How is it that we know we’ve seen Leviathans in previous Zelda titles? Well, to start we must ask; what is a leviathan? The modern definition of a leviathan can refer to any sea monster. However the term was originally referenced in the Hebrew Bible, but it has similar depictions in many different cultures and religions. Of course, each person’s interpretation of the monster’s appearance may vary, but generally the term leviathan is used to describe any great whale. Now in The Legend of Zelda, we’ve seen many gigantic creatures that easily resemble real world whales: the Wind Fish from Link’s Awakening, Jabu-Jabu from Ocarina of Time, Jabun from The Wind Waker, Oshus from Phantom Hourglass, and Levias from Skyward Sword. These are our Leviathans of the Zelda universe.
As I mentioned previously, a Leviathan can be any kind of sea monster; it doesn’t necessarily need to be a whale-like creature, though, for the most part, this is what we’ve come to see in The Legend of Zelda. Jabu-Jabu is a subject of debate, seeing as he could easily pass for some sort of toothed whale, though I personally see more of a giant leopard seal (and since then it can’t be unseen). Then there is Jabun, who clearly has a fish-inspired design. In the most recent game, Breath of the Wild, we can assume the Leviathans of Hyrule to be whale-like due to their near identical skeletal structures. Regardless, Nintendo states in the Hyrule Historia that these creatures I mentioned are all related to each other in one way or another simply by being based on large sea animals, and, by definition, allowing them to meet the requirements of being considered a Leviathan.
But Leviathans merely being creatures of the sea don’t account for all of the whale-like creatures within the Zelda franchise. Some of their these great whale-like animals are found dwelling in the sky instead of the sea. Take both Levias and the Wind Fish, for example. Though the inspirations for them are clearly oceanic, both whales float above the lands they protect. It just wouldn’t make sense for Levias to protect Skyloft from the seas below just as it wouldn’t make sense for Jabu-Jabu to fly through the air when his duties are to watch over the sea-bound Zoras.
Why are some of these whale-creatures found in the sea while some are found in the sky? We really have no sort of explanation for it; even Hyrule Historia doesn’t give any insight. Perhaps the goddesses might have favored such a large, intelligent creature and granted them the ability of flight (and possibly even speech). Or they could have been ordinary whales who once lived in the ancient seas before being given their sacred responsibilities.
Overall, as far as we’re concerned, each Leviathan could have simply been made to serve their specific purpose for the time that they lived, which might also explain why we only see one of them in their designated games — that is, at least, until Breath of the Wild.
A Leviathan’s purpose
In each game that we see a Leviathan, they are usually a spirit or guardian with a precise task given to them by a higher being. Levias was the protector of Skyloft, Jabu-Jabu that of Zora’s Domain, Jabun the keeper of Nayru’s Pearl, and Oshus served as the Ocean King to guard the ocean (pretty self-explanatory that one). The Wind Fish is a bit of a tricky one; while we know he created a temporary world in his dreams, we don’t know if that was his designated purpose or just a neat power that he can use. He might have had a similar purpose to Levias in protecting the skies or watching over islands from above. We can’t necessarily say for sure, but he is clearly some sort of deity.
This being said, we’ve only ever had one Leviathan per game, and each of them having a divine responsibility. We can only wonder if the Leviathans of Breath of the Wild also had a spiritual existence? And if it was, why were there three of them? My thoughts are that these three are somehow related to the dragons Naydra, Dinraal, and Farosh; the three Leviathans could somehow represent wisdom, power, and courage. Perhaps the vast world of Breath of the Wild was once covered in water, but as the tides receded, the Leviathans could not survive and transcended into new, draconic forms.
As commendable as that sounds though, it simply could be that these whale-like creatures went extinct. It seems unlikely given the Leviathans we’ve had in the past, but perhaps there were even more of this special breed outside of the various games’ plots that we just haven’t seen. It would be impossible to explore every inch of the sea to find one, even in a Zelda world that had expansive oceans. Even in real life with all the gadgets and technology we have nowadays, whales can still be tricky to track down — and whales in our world don’t have divine powers! I still would like to think that the deceased Leviathans of Breath of the Wild had some sort of noble duty, but, if they did, then why did they go extinct?
Extinction of the Leviathans
There are many possibilities of why the Leviathans went extinct in Breath of the Wild. The game allegedly takes place far, far down the timeline. Presumably, it takes place in the Child Timeline, which happens to be the only timeline branch that we do not actually see a live Leviathan in. A lot could have happened in that extended period of time, but let’s first take a look at the theories that we get in the Leviathan Bones side quest itself.
Each brother states a simple theory they’ve been researching to Link before sending him on a quest to find the bones. Onya suggests that the Leviathans died out due to an extended ice age. This hypothesis is based on the skeleton found in the Hebra region, which is known for its icy climate. Akrah theorizes that they went extinct due to a violent volcanic eruption, naturally since the Eldin skeleton is located near Death Mountain, a very active volcano. Lastly, Garshon believes they died from a severe drought, which can be assumed by last skeleton being located in the Gerudo Desert.
Out of all of these theories, the one I think is most plausible would be the cataclysmic drought. If these Leviathans were seaborne, then I think it’s pretty obvious as to why they would not have survived a serious drought — no rainfall means less water and thus no home for the Leviathans. If they were sky-dwelling, a lack of water would be devastating to any creature and could affect many regions, not just one. While an ice age could potentially affect a wide region, it seems less likely than a drought. A volcanic eruption just seems rather unlikely when seeing how far the other two skeletons are from Death Mountain, though they could have been fleeing from said catastrophic event and died out due to lack of food or water.
However, I have a different theory. These Leviathan skeletons helped me link many things together and come up with my own theory of exactly what happened to Hyrule, but do take this with a pinch of salt as this is still a personal thought and could be off. I think that, like the Adult Timeline, there was a great flood. I believe that Breath of the Wild most likely takes place due in the Child Timeline due to its direct references to Twilight Princess. After the events of Twilight Princess, I surmise that Ganondorf returned once more after the Hero of Twilight defeated him once again — though not in his normal Gerudo form. My thought is that, since the cycle of Demise’s evil is endless and that Ganondorf in Twilight Princess appeared to be one of the strongest incarnations of him to date, his hatred and malice started to form into what we know as Calamity Ganon. In an attempt to stop this, the goddesses flooded the land, just as they did before The Wind Waker.
The Leviathans also could have been put there once the flood took place as the new guardians of the land in this oceanic world. They could have been created specifically for this purpose to care for the people in this strange new world — but it didn’t last long. The people cried out for their land back as it was getting difficult to survive with such little earth to farm and build on, and the goddesses complied to their request, though they knew what the people were doing was foolish. They knew Ganon would surely return if not sealed away and showed them their fate by letting the Leviathans die without the waters of the flood to house them.
Or instead, the goddesses took pity on the guardians — or even the citizens of Hyrule — by allowing the Leviathans to take a new form as the three dragons we now know, leaving their old forms to perish. They could have also potentially left their old bodies behind and became Hylian in this changing environment, just as Oshus had when he became weak from Bellum. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this happen in Breath of the Wild as it also took effect on the Lord of the Mountain. He was professedly a sage who passed away as a Hylian and became Lord of the Mountain in his next life.
It also could have merely been time for these guardians to move on and make way for the next generation of protectors. The waters subsided, and the dragons were created afterward to protect Hyrule. We can assume this has also happened in the past since we do not hear about Levias, Jabu-Jabu, or any of the older Leviathans in future games down the timeline. These are my theories if the Leviathans were, in fact, sea-dwelling, but what if they were like Levias and the Wind Fish and lived in the skies?
As many possibilities as there are for the aquatic Leviathans to have gone extinct, there are just as many possibilities for the sky-faring beasts. A thought that I’ve had as to why these Leviathans died would be that, perhaps instead of protectors, they were destroyers. Whether they were rebellious towards the goddesses or just monsters from birth, they might have been dangerous towards mankind and the dragons could have been created to battle them.
Then there’s one fairly obvious theory on how they could have gone extinct that I’ve been saving for last: Ganon killed them off. Whether they were seaborne or airborne, if they served as guardians as their ancestors did, Ganon would not want them to be in the picture. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Ganon attack a divine protector. If we go back to Ocarina of Time, the Great Deku Tree, guardian of the forest, was murdered by Ganondorf. We can also assume that he even destroyed Jabu-Jabu as the Leviathan is missing when Link becomes an adult. Being now completely comprised of malice and chaos, Ganon surely would attempt to destroy anything that does good or has any loyalty to the goddesses.
Who knows? Any of these theories could have happened. Or maybe none of them did and it’s something entirely different, but all we can do is speculate, and if that’s good enough for the scientist brothers, it’s good enough for us.
We have seen the Leviathans appear in seven games now, can we expect to see them in future games? My guess — yes. The Legend of Zelda is a high fantasy game and to see such fantastical creatures would only enhance future experiences. I remember my first experience with a Leviathan, Jabun in The Wind Waker. I knew it would be some sort of fish, but I wasn’t expecting such a massive, fantastical creature. My face was identical to Link’s as he stared up at Jabun in awe, and the memory will always be with me.
The Leviathans always have a been a major part of whatever games they’ve been apart of. Twice they have created the world in which you explore, one was not only a key in completing the Song of the Hero but the host of an epic boss battle, and one was even a dungeon in two different games! (But please, Nintendo, don’t do that again, it was pretty gross…)
Needless to say, the Leviathans have fulfilled some impressive roles in previous Zelda titles and we can only hope that they can continue to protect the world in future games as well.