Do whales eat humans?

When you turn to see the largest whales, such as the blue whale, it is inevitable to think about how easy it would be for one or more human bodies to be trapped between the suction of water that it causes when it opens its empty mouth. After all, one whale can easily fit a few hundred people.

The truth is that the throat of the whales is usually incredibly small compared to its body. The one of the blue whale, for example, is no more than 30 cm, so a human could not fit there, at least without being chewed. But the blue whale’s teeth aren’t sharp enough for that. In fact, there are some whales that don’t even have teeth, so we can completely rule out those so-called “barbels”, which instead of teeth have instead a “beard” that looks like this:

The only whale with a throat big enough to swallow a human is the sperm whale. Also, their teeth are considerably sharper. However, this species usually hunts at a depth of 915 meters, so the probability that it ends up eating a human is very low.

But what would happen if a sperm whale decided to emerge from the depths and assault a human? Although there may be whale attacks on humans, such attacks do not end with them being eaten. On the other hand, and although the main reason for thinking that whales do not consume humans is because their type of diet is not at all similar, generally consisting of small organisms, in the case of the sperm whale, it is usually fish, squid and octopuses, being able to become the giant squid and the colossal squid.

So what makes us think that sperm whales don’t eat humans? The only logical, and possibly even scientific, answer is the simple fact that no one can be eaten by a whale and live to tell about it. Even so, there have been people who have dared to say that they have done it. No, I’m not talking about Pinocchio and his father Geppetto. The most “recent” and well-known case is that of a subject named James Bartley.

The story goes that this man was devoured, precisely by a sperm whale at some point in the month of February 1891, while he was aboard a ship called the Star of the East. Although it was assumed that he had drowned after falling from the ship, as they searched for him for several hours, the whale eventually reappeared. But when the other sailors got closer, they realized that she was dead, so they hooked her up and pulled her closer to the ship, taking her with them. Two days later, while someone was investigating the carcass, he noticed a strange noise inside the whale. He immediately called the others, and they decided to open it. When they made the incision, they found a man inside, almost unconscious, but alive. Her arms and his face were white, and he could barely speak. After recovering, he told the others that he remembered being submerged in the water, only to see how a huge mouth approached him. Suddenly he was inside the body of the whale, where there was only darkness. He felt himself slipping through a narrow slippery passageway from all sides. Later, he passed out.

Decades later, however, a researcher by the name of Edward Davis began investigating what happened, quickly finding several flaws in the story. The first thing he discovered was that there were no records of a crew member named James Bartley on that ship. But in reality, the weak point of the story is scientifically substantiated, as even if James had been eaten by the whale, it would have been impossible for him to survive inside the slimy, acid-filled stomach for several hours without oxygen.

As well as that story, there have been many more who have wanted to talk about humans who have been able to devour humans. But the truth is that, unless it is one of the shy species, whales tend to approach ships, boats, or even the seashore out of curiosity, and not with hostile intentions.

Along with the stories, theories have emerged to explain why whales in general don’t try to eat humans. Some of them, even becoming sinister, like the one that, although it speaks of killer whales, which in the strict sense are not whales, but dolphins, maintains that the reason could be cultural, going beyond basic instinct, existing between them a social norm not to attack humans. This might not sound so far-fetched considering that researchers have been able to witness “welcome ceremonies” as well as other equivalents of a funeral.

In conclusion, I believe that unless you deliberately put a human in front of a hungry whale, for an extended period of time, you will be able to tell for sure whether or not they would be able to digest it. Logic suggests that any animal on the verge of starvation, and especially if it is carnivorous, would try it, and taking into account that the sperm whale is capable of eating animals larger than the human, it is most likely that a person too it could become part of your diet. However, regarding the main question, the answer would be… usually no.