How to Survive Getting Swallowed By a Whale

Swimming with whales has been described as one of the most breathtaking experiences on Earth, and today you get to try it out! As you get so close to the majestic beasts that you can almost pat them, you realize you’ve never felt this in touch with nature before. But then everything goes dark, and your body is tossed around aggressively. You’ve just been scooped up in a whale’s mouth.

You struggle to fight your way out, but what are your chances against a 15-ton animal? Here’s How to Survive Getting Swallowed by a Whale.

Most people would tell you that being swallowed by a whale is an immediate death sentence. And they’d have good reason for it. But that doesn’t mean that survival is impossible. Just ask Rainer Schimpf. In 2007, he was gobbled up by a whale while taking pictures off South Africa’s coast. He immediately held his breath until the whale promptly spit him back out. But what if you weren’t released so quickly?

How could you avoid being sliced up by the whale’s teeth? Is there any way to survive the burning acids of its four stomachs? And when would be a bad time to make your escape? Here are some ways that you could get out alive.

Oh, and just to be clear, there’s only one type of whale that could theoretically swallow a human whole. Most people would think that’s the blue whale. Blue whales have giant mouths that could fit hundreds of people inside, and they keep their mouths wide open as they travel through the ocean.

But the baleen plates inside their mouths would prevent a person from being swallowed. Even if someone did make it past those, the blue whale’s esophagus is only 25 cm (10 in) across — too small to allow a human through. The only whales that would have no trouble swallowing us humans are sperm whales, so let’s see how we can avoid becoming their dinner.

Number 1: Curl up into a tight ball.

Bring your arms and legs into your body as tightly as you can, and lower your chin to your chest. You need to curl up into the tightest ball you can. This will minimize your body’s surface area, and decrease the chance you’ll get chomped by the whale’s teeth. Sperm whales have 18-26 teeth on each side of their jaws, and each tooth weighs up to 1 kg (2.2 lbs). Even if you were curled up into a ball, you’d still be lucky to make it through the mouth without losing an arm or leg, but at least you’d have a chance.

Number 2: Don’t panic.

Yes, we realize that it’s easier said than done, but there is no time for fear. In a situation like this, you have to use your instincts.
Try to feel around in the mouth before you get swallowed. It will be extremely dark, but if you can find something to hold onto, you won’t get burned and digested in any of the whale’s four stomachs. You could try to grab on to the walls of the esophagus, but that would be very difficult as it is covered in mucus.

Number 3: Wear a protective suit.

Some people might think you’re a little paranoid when you show up to swim with the whales in your elaborate wetsuit, but it could very well save your life. You would want a suit that’s resistant to hydrochloric acid, so that you could survive in the whale’s stomachs.
One type of suit that might do the trick is called a neoprene wetsuit. There is some evidence that it could withstand the harsh environment in the stomach. You would also need a breathing tube and an oxygen reservoir because there wouldn’t be any breathable air.

Number 4: Wait to be spit up.

It worked for our friend Rainer Schimpf, so why couldn’t it work for you? He was lucky enough to be spit out before he was swallowed, but in your case it’s going to be a little more difficult. And gross. Luckily for you, sperm whales need to vomit every several hours. So if you were able to survive long enough, you could be spit up with it. But don’t get too excited. Because surviving all depends on where you get spit out. Whales can swim at a depth of 100 m (3,290 ft), whereas the human body can only swim at a depth of 20 m (65 ft) without assistance. So if the whale’s thinking of spewing you out on the deep part of his swim, you’ve probably got a better chance living through it if you just stay inside.

Number 5: Avoid Sperm Whales

It might seem like common sense, but if you want to avoid being swallowed by a whale, how about you just stay away from the only ones that can swallow humans? If another type of whale scoops you up in their mouth, you’ll have a much better chance of survival. Take the humpback whale, for instance. When this whale approaches a potential meal, such as a school of krill, they propel themselves forward with a burst of energy, open their mouths wide and let whatever is in their way flood in. When something larger than krill enters their mouths, they’ll use their tongues to force it back out.

As you have probably gathered by now, even though it is technically possible to survive being swallowed by a whale, it’s extremely unlikely. But luckily for us, whales are generally not that interested in humans. If you are going to worry about anything eating you in the water, it should probably be sharks.

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Joe Johnson
2 years ago

“If you are going to worry about anything eating you in the water, it should probably be sharks.”

That’s not terribly fair to sharks. They are not all out to kill humans as we are often led to believe.