Swallowed by a whale!

From: Greg Early (mailgearly@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed Jan 12 2005 - 11:11:09 EST

  • Next message: Greg Early: "Questions about whales for "Ask A Scientist""

    Heather and her twisted sister,

    No need to apologize - Actually if you work with
    whales you tend to get this question a lot - what with
    Jonah and Ahab and all of that.

    O.K fasten you seat belts ...

    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. Sperm whales have been
    caught with entire giant squids (weighing over 400
    pounds) in their stomachs.

    So let's say you get caught - what happens next.
    Well, sperm whales have teeth, so you would have to
    avoid those going down. As you know from the story,
    Ahab lost a piece this way.

    OK you get to the stomach - in your SCUBA gear - all
    in one piece. Will your suit protect you?

    Now, I could suggest an experiment here but it would
    involve getting a wet suit and - well - throwing up on
    it and ... wait a minute I have been seasick on a dive
    boat on a rough day and - yes - I can say that I have
    done a version of this experiment myself - and (now
    this is a rather limited sample I admit, but) - based
    on personal observation I'd say that my wet suit was
    not digested - at least by my stomach contents anyway.

    Actually, there is a bit more to it than that. Did
    you ever wonder why your stomach does not digest
    itself? Part of that has to do with the lining of
    your stomach, but part of it has to do with the fact
    that living tissue does not digest the same way that
    food does. So I'd bet that, digestion would not do
    you in.

    Other problems? Like being crushed? Hard to say, but
    that whole squid story makes you think that you might
    not be crushed right away either. So maybe you would
    just have to wait until your SCUBA bubbles made the
    whale uncomfortable enough to spit you back up.

    But here is the big question - has there ever been a
    person that claimed to have been there - swallowed by
    a sperm whale and lived...AND...is there any proof
    that the story was true?

    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
    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

    According to the story, Bartley eventually 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

    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

    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....


    --- H Lee <heather_lee6@hotmail.com> wrote:

    > I was having a discussion with my sister about Moby
    > Dick and we were
    > wondering what exactly would happen if you were
    > swallowed by a whale, while
    > wearing full scuba gear. If he/she couldn't
    > suffocate, how would he/she die?
    > We thought about the digestive system of a whale and
    > wondered if it was
    > similiar to humans, in that stomach acid broke down
    > food. Would the scuba
    > person be killed by the stomach acid, would he/she
    > be chewed up, would this
    > person be physical beaten to death by the
    > circumstances, or are we way off
    > base? Not a very scientific question, we know, but
    > thought you might have
    > the answer we were looking for.
    > Thanks,
    > Two Psychologically Disturbed Sisters

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Jan 12 2005 - 15:48:29 EST