This Is What Would Happen If a Whale Swallowed a Person

Can whales swallow humans? For anyone scared of the ocean or Bible stories, science can put some of those fears to rest. The video below by House of the Future points out that only one species of whale even has a throat big enough to fit a human. And yes, you would suffocate or be crushed or burned in acid if that happened. Thankfully, the likelihood of you ending up in a sperm whale’s digestive tract is essentially zero.

The sperm whale is massive and regularly feeds on giant squid. If you were digested by a sperm whale, parts of you may resurface in ambergris, a waxy substance that eases the passing of hard objects like squid beaks. As mentioned in the video, people use it in perfumes. It is rare and a recent 280-pound chunk of it sold for $1.5 million.

As shown in Finding Nemo, humpbacks and other large species of whale are filter feeders and eat krill and small fish. The video points out that their throats aren’t big enough to even swallow human body parts, much less a whole human. But the risk isn’t just if you’re swallowed. Their mouths are big enough to hold a human. If they dive with you in there, you could suffocate. A lobster diver that found himself in a whale’s mouth survived because he had scuba equipment to help him breathe.

Two kayakers also ended up in a whale’s mouth. Humpback whales use a strategy called bubble net feeding. They swim to the surface with their huge mouths open in order to catch schools of fish. Anything in the way also ends up in their mouths and the kayakers were much too close.

Animation of a human inside a whale's stomach
House of the Future

Hopefully the researchers trying to translate sperm whale language are making progress so we can avoid such unpleasantries. What about the stat at the beginning of the video, that you have a one in a million chance of a whale swallowing you? Since there’s no reason to think anyone ever has been, this is closer to one in 107 billion.  

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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