Can you get eaten by a whale?

Can you get Eaten by a whale?

It’s comforting to think that if you were somehow swallowed by a whale like Jonah or Pinocchio, you’d simply hang out in his belly in one piece until he eventually spit you back out, unharmed and intact. Unfortunately, the conditions within a whale are slightly less than optimal for human survival but take heart — your odds of ending up in this type of situation are pretty low.


A few years ago, a journalist named Ben Shattuck decided to do a bit of investigative journalism around the subject of whales that devour people, and he trawled through hundreds of records in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library to get an insight.

Despite his exhaustive research, he could not find a single tangible report of someone being swallowed alive by a whale. Although he found records of sailors being injured by whales, and some even dying after getting tangled with a whale, none of the records mentioned that whales swallowed a human completely.


According to live science A humpback whale recently swallowed a Cape Cod lobster diver.  This is a highly unusual event, but one expert said that there are certain types of behaviours that could have led to the man being swallowed — such as diving too close to the whale’s normal food.

However for the most part, whales are not able to swallow people. In fact, most whale species have throats that are far too small to be able to swallow an adult, so they wouldn’t be able to swallow a person if they tried.

Most whales are also not equipped with teeth designed to tear apart tough flesh and bone, which would be necessary for breaking down the parts of large mammals such as humans, and some species don’t possess any teeth at all.


Potential threats to humans

While humans may be at little risk of being attacked or eaten by a whale, there are several threats that humans may face when in close contact with these large marine mammals.

Fortunately, for the most part, injuries or deaths in regards to whales harming humans is extremely low, and very few incidents have been recorded regarding humans being harmed by whales. However, these possibilities do exist, so we’ll briefly explore these potential hazards. Some of these potential hazards a person may face when in close contact with a whale include:

  • Collisions with boats
  • Hard physical contact with unprotected humans
  • Being pulled underwater
  • Being injured or crushed in the whale’s mouth (no records to our knowledge indicate this ever happening)

While rare, a small boat or yacht may collide with a whale (or vice versa), causing the boat to sustain damage, collapse or tip over.

In fact, there have been numerous instances of boats (up to 50 ft. long) being struck and taken down by large whales that breached the water and landed on a boat. Another possible way for people to be injured by whales is to be struck by a whale directly while swimming in the water. This is also rare as people aren’t usually in the vicinity of whales. However, surfers and those traveling out to sea to swim or scuba dive may risk being hit by a passing whale swimming nearby or breaching the water. Being pulled underwater by a breaching whale or getting caught in its mouth and pulled down or crushed are also possibilities.

While there have been several close encounters with large whales nearly engulfing people in their mouths, we do not have any confirmed cases of a whale crushing a human with their baleen plates. As stated earlier, even if a whale can fit a human in its mouth, it cannot swallow the human because of its small throat, with the possible exception of the sperm whale.

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Baleen whales

Certain whale species have no teeth at all. For example, all types of baleen whales are sometimes called “toothless.” To eat their food, which is not human, they naturally have baleen plates that have evolved to catch prey such as small fish and krill. Moreover, the oesophagus of these whales is not particularly large, only a few centimetres wide, meaning that a healthy human adult could not fit through.

Sperm whales

The toothy variety of whales called sperm whales are a bit of an exception. They have a large esophagus that is capable of swallowing large mammals, but their primary food sources are fish, squid, and octopus found in the deep sea. Although their gigantic persona can send shivers down your spine when you encounter them, they are generally considered harmless to humans, albeit for a different reason.

Sperm whales usually hunt about half a mile below the surface of the ocean. More specifically, a sperm whale often hunts 3,000 feet into the depths! This depth is much deeper than any human can swim, as the pressure alone would be unbearable.

Sperm whales hunt so deep in the ocean that scientists are still unsure how to find and hunt prey. In short, you need not be afraid that a whale will emerge from the depths and swallow you in a single gulp!


Whale FAQs

Has a human been swallowed by a whale?

There have been no modern day incidents of humans being swallowed by whales. However, legend has it that in the 19th century, James Bartley was swallowed by a sperm whale but managed to survive in the whale’s stomach. The story has been found to be untrue. Research showed that there was no one by that name on the ship in question.

Can you survive if a whale swallowed you?

Not likely. Not only would the whale’s stomach acid make quick work of you, but you’d experience a distinct lack of air on the inside.

Has a whale ever killed a human?

There have been no fatal attacks on humans by whales in the wild. This is because whales mostly keep to themselves and are often far removed from humans. In captivity, whales have led several fatal attacks on humans.

How much can a whale open its mouth?

Blue whales can stretch their mouth up to four times their normal size. They can dislocate their jaw to open by a 90 degree angle. This unique anatomy allows the whale to swallow as many krill as possible.

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