What Would Really Happen If A Whale Swallowed You?

You may have heard the Old Testament tale of Jonah and the Whale. Long story short, Jonah defies God's orders by sailing away from God, gets swallowed by a whale, and gets spat back out three days later after he repents. Is it possible? In 2019, a diver named Rainer Schimpf unexpectedly found himself in the mouth of a 15-ton Bryde's whale, but as Live Science explains, "Schimpf was never in danger of being swallowed" because those animals are batch feeders. He was spat out within seconds.

Taking Jonah's whale tale literally would require either a leap of faith or bulletproof evidence. As it turns out, a 1930 article published in the Moody Bible Institute Monthly explores the story's plausibility. As recounted in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the article, written by theology professor Albertus Pieters, cites the story of an "exceedingly large" sperm whale that allegedly swallowed a sailor who was violently tossed from a whaling ship near the Falkland Islands. 

The real man allegedly swallowed by a whale

Surprisingly, the seaman's name wasn't Ahab, Ishmael, or even Melville. It was James Bartley. Bartley supposedly lived after being rescued from the literal belly of the beast, but gastric juices took an awful toll. The sailor's "face and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness, and the skin was wrinkled giving the man the appearance of having been parboiled."  Bartley behaved like a "raving lunatic" for weeks, but the insanity subsided and he only lasting side effect was his sallow, "parchment"-like flesh. In fact, he speculated that he could have survived the whale's innards until starvation set in.

Could Bartley's tale be true? Mostly not, according to the Naked Scientists. While sperm whales — which can swallow whole giant squids — probably wouldn't need to take a big gulp to ingest an entire human like a tiny slurpee, they have tricky digestive systems. If the Jonah Ahab Bartley McIshmael miraculously made it past the teeth in one piece, he would have to face up to four stomachs, not get eaten up by caustic digestive enzymes, and do it all with basically no oxygen. Much of the gas you'll find is methane because "whales can be flatulent." So not only would you deal with your flesh corroding, but you'd find yourself wallowing in a sea of whale farts. Moby Dick? More like Moby Ick.