In February 1891, James Bartley said he was eaten by a whale, and lived in its stomach for 36 hours.
Bartley was a sailor on board a ship called Star of the East. He recalled the whaling ship was nearing the Falkland Islands when a whale was spotted.
Longboats were dropped into the ocean, and harpoons were fired. The wounded whale tossed and turned. It struck the longboat containing Bartley with its tail. The boat tipped over, and Bartley and another man disappeared into the water. They were presumed drowned.
A couple of hours later, the whale gave up the fight. The crew brought its dead body aboard and started cutting it up. During the second day, the crew cut open the stomach. Inside they found the body of James Bartley.
To their shock, the missing sailor was still alive. He had lived for 36 hours in the whale’s stomach.
The crew carried Bartley to the captain’s cabin. In three weeks he was as fit as a fiddle. He recalled how he had fallen from the boat into pitch darkness. He described slipping down a smooth slope into a large area with slimy walls. Realizing he was in the whale’s stomach, he passed out in shock. He recalled waking in the captain’s cabin but little else.
Newspapers called Bartley a modern-day Jonah. Religious groups said Bartley’s story was proof of the biblical tale. Even marine scientists threw their weight behind Bartley’s fanciful story.
For 16 years, Bartley’s tale remained unquestioned. And then in 1907, something began to smell a bit fishy. The Star of the East’s captain called the story a tall tale. He said he had never lost a man overboard and accused Bartley of lying.
Whaling experts would later discredit Bartley’s claims. They said it was impossible for a person swallowed by a whale to survive.
Rainer Schimpf would beg to differ. In March of 2019, the 51-year-old was diving off the coast of South Africa. He was photographing fish when the lights suddenly went out. Complete darkness consumed him. Schimpf realized a 15-ton whale had swallowed him. From his head to his hips, he found himself inside the whale’s mouth. Unlike Bartley’s story, this was no tall tale. There is photographic evidence of Schimpf’s legs dangling from the whale’s mouth.
Schimpf recalls holding his breath as he waited for the whale to pull him under. Fortunately for Schimpf, the whale spat him back out in the blink of an eye. On this occasion, human was not on the menu.
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