Whelan, 73, believes they do not have the resources to be pushing for a place that would propel them among the continent's finest.
He said: "We are Wigan Athletic and when we set off at the start of the season all we are looking for is survival.
"It is no use thinking we can get into Europe. We can have ambition and that's finishing in the top half of the league.
"That's what Roberto (Martinez) is intent on doing in this coming season. But if we survive, it's success."
It has been a mixed debut season for Spanish coach Martinez, who arrived in the summer from Swansea.
His side have enjoyed home victories against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - with Charles N'Zogbia scoring a late winner - but shipped nine goals at Tottenham.
Whelan, who has seen the club spectacularly climb the pyramid from the backwaters of non-league football to the top flight appears to have lost none of his enthusiasm despite a roller-coaster ride.
He said: "When I came in and where we are now you cannot comprehend. Wigan were playing non-league football 25 years ago. I was a member of the board when they were in the Lancashire Combination.
"To play Arsenal here and beat them was the finest moment of my life. When that winning goal went in I have never felt anything so good. Everything we have done for that one moment in time was worth it."
With Hull due to visit the DW Stadium on Monday, Whelan insists Martinez remains the man to take the club forward.
Whelan did after all give assurances when the appointment was that the new manager would be allowed to see out his contract, no matter what.
He said: "I do not doubt Roberto in any way. He is one of the best young managers in Europe. He has learned a hell of a lot this season and he is a quick learner.
"When you are moving up from the Championship it is really difficult. I think Roberto has seen a lot of things in the Premier League that have surprised him.
"We have been brilliant and awful. It has been a very unusual season. But we got the right result - we stayed up."
Martinez said: "I am very proud of the players and the standards they have shown this season. We have got a group now where we are all very excited about their potential.
"We need to kick on, make sure that we can reproduce the highlights of this season and be a little bit more consistent so that we can take Wigan to the next level."