Has Anyone Ever Been Swallowed Alive By A Whale?

A Massachusetts commercial lobster diver made headlines in June 2021 after ending up inside the mouth of a humpback whale off the coast of Herring Cove Beach on what was certainly not just another day at the office. Fortunately for Michael Packard, the whale spit him out after about 30 or 40 seconds or so, according to what Packard told the Cape Cod Times

As Packard described the experience, at first he thought a great white shark got him, then noticed he didn't feel any teeth and wasn't badly hurt. He realized he must be inside of a whale. He told the Cape Cod Times, "I was completely inside; it was completely black. I thought to myself, 'there's no way I'm getting out of here. I'm done, I'm dead.' All I could think of was my boys — they're 12 and 15 years old." 

Packard, who was wearing scuba gear, said he struggled inside of the whale and he could tell the whale was responding, as it's unnatural for a whale to eat a human. He told the Cape Cod Times, "I saw light, and he started throwing his head side to side, and the next thing I knew I was outside (in the water)."

A crewmate saw the commotion at the surface when the whale came up and spit Packard out. He pulled Packard onto the boat and they went to shore where they were met by a Fire Department Ambulance. Packard only sustained soft tissue damage. 

Humans are too big for all but one type of whale to swallow

As far as it's known, no one has ever been "swallowed" by a whale. According to Nicola Hodgins of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the only whale with a throat large enough to swallow a human is a sperm whale, and even that is unlikely because sperm whales live in open ocean areas and generally hang out at depths of 10,000 feet, National Geographic reported. There are, however, various tales of men being "swallowed" by a whale, but in those cases it was technically that the person was just in the whale's mouth and then spit out, like Packard.

In another alleged case, though, a man named James Bartley is said to have lived inside a sperm whale for 15 hours. An 1892 story in the Buffalo Commercial claims that during a whaling expedition near the Falkland Islands, off the southern coast of Argentina, fishermen harpooned a massive whale. The whale ended up knocking Bartley and another man out of the boat. The other man drowned; the crew didn't find Bartley and assumed he'd sunk to the bottom of the sea. They continued their work and hauled the whale back to land where they cut up the whale for its fat. When they got to the stomach they found Bartley, unconscious but alive. 

That story has since been debunked, per the Australian Geographic, as scientists confirmed it's impossible that a person could live that long inside of a whale.