Could a human survive swallowing by a whale?

27 June 2010


this is a picture of a whale with its tail out of the water



Hi! I enjoy listening to your podcasts, and now I have a question of my own I hope you might have an answer to. :) Recently I've been thinking about the Old Testament story of Jonah, who was swallowed by "a big fish" (or "a whale" according to the gospel of Matthew). Are there any modern day accounts of humans (or animals for that matter) surviving something like this?


Helen - There are plenty of accounts. They're all on the internet and I should think they are all untrue because there are all sorts of reasons why I don't think it's likely that anyone's really going to survive - at least not for very long - inside any of these animals. We could look at it if you like.

Which of the whales could physically swallow us? That's the first question. Can we actually get into their gullet, down their oesophagus? If you're talking about Baleen whales with baleen plates that filter tiny plankton and creatures from the sea, like a blue whale, the answer is no because their oesophagus' are very tiny thin things, a couple of inches across. Even a blue whale's oesophagus only reaches about 10 inches if you stretch it. So I don't think that's going to be enough for us to get through. Maybe a child, but let's not try that. So that really leaves the toothed whales, the other part of the whale group, things like killer whales and sperm whales. Yes, they can swallow large prey. They can swallow large seals whole. We know sperm whales can swallow giant squid whole, so chances are, they could swallow a human whole. If you can survive the being swallowed part of it and get past all those teeth, you then will find yourself in a complex digestive system. They have up to four stomach chambers, like a cow. Find your way through those if you can while also dodging all those nasty digestive enzymes that are going to start corroding your skin.

Chris - Well not least the lack of oxygen, sure it is.

Helen - Absolutely. That was my final point - was there really isn't any air in there. If there is any gas inside a whale, it's probably methane, and that's not going to help you out very much. We do know that whales can be flatulent, so there is some gas. They do have gassy pockets, but it's not air, not good to breath. Certainly, no air inside a fish, so I think that's really what's going to get you in the end. So I'm afraid no.

But there are lovely stories. I like Rudyard Kipling's, "How the Whale Got it's Throat" which tells of a shipwrecked mariner who was swallowed by a whale and he caused such a fuss that the beast agrees to release him, but the mariner, to prevent this ever happening again, forces a wooden grate into the mouth of the whale so that it won't swallow anymore people, and all it can do is swallow little fish. So he got that half right - that's half of the whales, the Baleen whales. So, no, I don't think there's any chance. I think all the stories of people surviving being inside a whale are made up. Sorry about that.


The obstacle here is between the converted and unconverted. As a middle aged, medically qualified professional I spent some fifty odd years as a secular non believer. Then I was converted. Suddenly, privately and completely. Not under the influence of anything but prayer. Immediately on that conversion I knew that every word in The Bible is true. Not satirical, rhetorical, interpretational or any other “al”. It’s true. All of it. Read it in that light, without question and it is as explicable as any scientific text and more explicable than many theories. Indeed many things held as scientifically “true” in my own lifetime have been abandoned for new “truths”. Not so with The Bible. It is God’s word and gives humanity all it needs to face the rigours of life, death and eternity.

Yes,a human being can be swallowed by a great fish or whale and survive. Listen to the credible story of a man recently interviewed. He was a bit sore and received medical attention.
There are somethings which are beyond human reasoning but miracles are happening every day! I see this as God the Creator of life in action !

Apologies. I found a typo in a post I left just a few minutes ago.
"JONAH" was misspelled *Johan* or something like that. I'm unable to edit and correct as my post is being checked (?).

The biggest problem of humanity is applying reason where reason is needless. there are area whose jurisdiction is only God, i read a sad South African story of a baby born and dumped in a fused bag only to be discovered alive by city rubbish collection unit alive. what puzzles me is that inspiration to open the tied black refuse bag before throwing it in a rubbish filled truck and the eventual discovery of a baby alive. None knows for how long the baby was in that plastic alive. In my understanding it is only God who preserved the life of that baby for a future purpose not known to people today. If people have intelligence i invite them to the wisdom of not disputing the existence of God and his miraculous powers. I dont think there is anyone who can explain why they are alive in the same conditions where others have die. the simple answers is God and God and God alone.

Haven’t you seen pictures of whale sharks? Not that it matters,but God can do what he wants.

Oh you guys are hopless. Faith is faith and nothing isimpossible... Right? So God closes starving lions mouths and three you g men are thrown into a firery furnace andJesus is shown all the kingdoms by Satan. Let's remember God has done what pleases him, not science.

I don't know what had happened to jonah

Okay, so the story of Jonah would be laughed at If someone were to go on the news, today, and say he just got back from a whales stomach. None of you Christians would believe him. Where’s the faith? Why do you only have faith in stories from 2,000 years ago, but have no faith in stories from today (unless told to by your pastor, minister, priest or whatever, to believe)? If the Bible is the word of God, why didn’t Jesus dictate it, why only a handful of quotes from others? And since it wasn’t actually Jesus who wrote, or was even there, when the Bible was written, why do you consider it the unquestionable word of God? Lots of questions, and you will respond with faith, but if you ONLY have faith in the Bible then, what did Jesus say about hypocrites (in one of the few actual spoken words attributed to him), oh right, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Matthew 6:5

Well 1 good reason Christians who actually read their Bible might not believe current day miracles is that there are prophesies that state that miracles like that would be done away with after the time of the apostles until the end days. 1 Cor. 13:8 alludes to this as well as context of many other scriptures.

I'm a Pastor in Dallas, TX and love to study the Bible. The reality is that Jonah is written in the style of satire. Think the Saturday Night Live of the Bible. Satire takes realities and blows them out of proportion to prove a point. It's a beautiful literary technique that ultimately serves the theological purpose of the book to us on a platter. To the scientists point, humans can't survive in a whale's stomach, but the stomach of the whale simply satirizes the bottom of the bottom that a human experiences when they presume to run from God's purposes in this world. Cows don't repent. The city of Nineveh wasn't a 3 days get the picture. We conservative Christians would do well to maintain the inspiration and authority of scripture without checking our brains at the door.

Jonah is not a satire any more than the resurrection of Jesus is a satire. I hate it when politically correct people, whether they be scientists, analysts or, sadly clergy try to explain away a miracle in the Bible! You know not because you believe not. Faith cannot ne explained away and neither can miracles. Jesus died. Jesus rose again. You can't explain that, how can you explain Jonah, Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Goliath, Moses and the Exodus (and related plagues and miraculous protection of the Jews)...on and on! It is not possible to explain by reason because the very nature of a miracle defies reason! So, yes, I believe the story of Jonah is literal because the same God who raised Lazarus and Jesus (and others!) from the dead could easily protect Jonah in the belly of a whale, or fish, or whatever animal God chose to use!

Very nicely put Debra. You hit the nail right on the head!! Amen!

I find it very sad to hear a man of God say that the story of Jonah was satire. God is God an I know him to be a wonder working God

Debra, you hit the nail on the head. Miracles defy reasoning. I too believe the story of Jonah is literal because our almighty God can easily protect Jonah in the belly of a whale. Just like God protected Daniel from the lions in the lions den.

Read a King James Bible, you'll find that Jonahs body did indeed die(Jonah 2:6), while inside of a whale(which is a fish) that was specially prepared by God(Jonah 1:17). Jonah is the greatest sign and type of the risen Christ, he rose from the dead after 3 days(Matt 12:40). Did James Bartley really get swallowed by a whale and survive in the early part of last century? Probably not, who cares...but if God supernaturally saved his creation from death and recorded it in his seems wise to believe him!

IN 1891 TWO SMALL whaleboats from the British vessel the Star of the East were lowered into the frigid waters of the Falkland Islands, 500km east of Argentina, after sighting a huge sperm whale. Crew member James Bartley, 21, watched as the harpoon met its mark and the creature dived 250m, before the line went slack once more.

Moments later the whale burst from the water, smashing one boat. All but two of its crew were rescued. One of the missing was Bartley. The whale resurfaced and was winched to the ship, where the whalers noticed movements in its stomach, so they cut open its gut.

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“Out came a boot on a trousered leg and there was James Bartley…still living after 15 hours in the belly of a whale. Its digestive juices had permanently bleached his skin a deathly white, he lost his hair and was nearly blind. For two weeks he was delirious, and it was a month before he could tell how he’d fallen into the whale’s mouth, felt the huge teeth grate over him as he slid down into its throat, then stomach.

“This modern Jonah lived 18 more years, dying at 39,” continues an account at the Eden Killer Whale Museum on the south coast of NSW, which sources the story to “Records of British Admiralty”. The museum adds a note: “Before diving, sperm whales inhale deeply and rapidly, storing oxygen in muscle fibres, tissues and blood…Could it be that James Bartley survived through the storing up of such oxygen?”

Well said Johan. Thanks. The Bible was not "written" to be a science textbook for atheists/agnostics (they are identical). It is Faith such as Abraham demonstrated that is the issue. The Fifth Chapter of the Epistle (not Gospel) of John summarizes Christianity and Faith for the open minded.

Just a quick thought. To me the Jonah story is very curiously corroborated by Jesus in the NT. The Pharisees who are the religious elect who ‘know everything’ wanted to trap/get rid of Jesus and so asked Him to do a ‘big’ miracle. The word translated is like a ‘part the seas type miracle’. From Jesus standpoint it’s very rude and arrogant to go before God and expect Him to do what you ask with such intentions. So he says ‘no such miracle will be given, accept the sign of Jonah’. What he’s doing here is very clever. He takes a story that is outlandish, possibly the Bibles most outlandish and says basically ‘you want something big do you? Well you know the scripture better than anyone (they did, many of the Pharisees had the whole OT memorized!) but you clearly don’t believe this little ‘kids story’.

Jesus often liked to point out how the faith of a child trumped adults ‘knowledge’. To me, he threw these guys a bone. The story is a metaphor for Jesus resurrection after three days and even though these guys were trying to trap him he was kind enough to his enemies to remind them of story they doubtfully believed so that in their very lifetime they’d be faced with the reality to believe or not believe in who Jesus is when he rose from the dead. Imagine the tears when these guys thought back to the day they tried to trap Jesus...

In my humble opinion Jesus picked that story because it’s ridiculous. That’s precisely the point folks. He’s God. He gets it. Either that is a coincidence beyond all coincidences, genius writing or, or maybe He really is God and understands our hang ups...

Jonah's story must be another miraculous event as there are other ones in different parts of the Bible. Without a miracle neither he survived nor Nineveh people believed him so easily for his testimonies. Jesus quoted this event in comparison to his miraculous resurrection. So it is authenticating. You can't give a scientific explanation for other miracles in Bible which God did either.

I don't follow your reasoning...

It's pretty obvious you don't understand his reasoning. Unfortunately... that doesn't make him wrong just because *you* don't understand his reasoning. Good luck ;)

Doesn't make him right either

I doubt any human could survive the being swallowed this way.
Humans demand mass quantities of air. When a whale sounds, (dives suddenly and deeply),human physiology would not survive the long periods of suffocation.and the extreme pressures of whale diving to over 300 ft for 10 minutes,at this depth oxygen becomes toxic,and there is the issue of decompression.This is speaking about blue whales.
I don't know if blue whales can regurgitate. I would say NO, surviving such an event is highly unlikely.

I do believe the story of jonah in the bible because it says he was swollowed by a big fish not a whale. And I few years back in the Philippines two men were out FISHING and they CAUGHT a big fish and when they cut it open there was a real live man inside alive he was bald and his skin was bleached white from the acid inside the fish he had been swollowed by this fish and been in it for a few days but he was alive so yes it is possible. You can look story up on youtube man found In a big fish alive . I believe it was in the Philippines .

Do you have a reference for this miraculous story?

Whales eat a lot of plankton, algae and seaweed during the course of a day. These produce oxygen. Why could a person not survive, if they were in the same stomach chamber as marine vegetation? Also, myself not being a marine biologist, I fail to see why the whale wouldn't swallow at least a little water with its food, Would this water not turn to vapor, releasing breathable oxygen?

Some seagoing vegetation produces oxygen - but only in the presence of sunlight. No sunlight, no photosynthesis.
And when water vaporizes, it is still water molecules in the air. Vaporizing does not break water down into its component elements of hydrogen and oxygen.

Would you be digested in stomach and burn from acids,if you survived the mouth and throat?

Most expert opinion says it is not likely. My interest lies in the mant accounts of after death experiences where humans resumed a healthy life and extraordinary memory from comatose visions.Even atheists and neurosurgeons like Dr Eber Alexander ..(ABC News Oct 2012)

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