From: Greg Early (
Date: Mon Oct 14 2002 - 15:56:18 EDT

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    Good question, that a lot of people have been asking for a long time. My
    answers are below...

    -----Original Message-----
    From: lkirkwood []
    Sent: Thursday, October 10, 2002 7:28 PM

    Dear Mr. Early,

    My name is Victoria. I am in 6th grade and homeschooled. I love to study
    plants and animals and am doing a report on whales. The Bible story of
    Jonah speaks of a great fish swallowing him.
    I have found conflicting reports on whether whales could indeed swallow a
    man whole (some articles say their throat is too small). I have found that
    sperm whales probably would be the most likely candidate for this story
    altho it could have been a pre-historic animal also.

    My questions are:

    Could a whale (and what type) swallow a man whole?
    There is no doubt, and most scientists agree, that some whales could
    swallow a human whole. There is some debate about whether the baleen
    whales could (it seems unlikely) but nearly all agree that sperm whales are
    the most likely candidate.
    What type of whale could do that if any?
     Sperm whales have been caught with entire giant squids (weighing over 400
    pounds) in their stomachs.
    Have you ever heard of a whale or shark swallowing a man whole?
    Yes, as a matter of fact. Keep in mind I also hear a lot of things that
    are hogwash, but there are some accounts that have been published, and
    checked, and seem to be real of entire people showing up in the stomachs of
    some sharks and in one case a sperm whale. Keep in mind that in all of
    these accounts the people were very dead.
    Have you ever heard of a story of a man being swallowed by a "fish" and
    If you do not include being bitten or partly swallowed and immediately spit
    out (grabbed but let go, basically). No I have not heard of any. This
    would include big fish (like groupers...which are probably big enough to
    swallow a little person, or a couple of species of shark that are certainly
    large enough to swallow a person whole, if so inclined...)

    Do you know of a website that would help me in my research?

    You might try this one...

    I appreciate your time in answering my questions. Thank you, Victoria

    But here is the big question...has there ever been a story about a person
    that was swallowed by a sperm whale and lived...AND... is there any proof?
     As it turns out there was such a person. In the late 1800's a man named
    James Bartley claimed to have been a whaleman aboard a British whaleship
    the "Star of the East". The ship was hunting whales off of South America
    in 1891 when a sperm whale was spotted. Two whale boats went out to catch
    the whale. One boat was wrecked by the whale, one sailor drowned and one
    (Bartley) was lost and could not be found. The second boat killed the
    whale and towed it to the ship. The next day, when the stomach of the
    whale was brought up on deck and cut open, Bartley was found inside the
    stomach of the whale. A bit worse for wear (it was said that his hair was
    gone and his face and hands were bleached "like parchment"). Eventually
    Bartley made a full recovery (although he retained the strange coloring of
    his skin) and became somewhat of a local celebrity around England. His
    story was printed in popular accounts and newspapers at the time, and has
    shown up quite often since then as a tale of the "Modern Jonah". That's
    the story anyway... how true might it be? Records show that there was a
    ship called the "Star of the East" that was sailing in the right place at
    the right time. The only problem is that it was not a whale ship.
     Checking records of the ship show no one named Bartley on any of the
    voyages. The wife of the captain (who was on all of the trips the ship
    took) was interviewed about the incident and said that it did not happen
    and that Bartley had made up a "fish story". What we do know is that right
    about the time that the story of Bartley broke there was a dead whale that
    had been harpooned near shore and was being exhibited around the coast of
    England. Skeptics say that Bartley may have made up the whole story to
    cash in on the publicity generated by the whale exhibit and used an odd
    skin condition he had as "proof". But it seems that this is about as close
    as the facts can get us and we will likely never know for sure....

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