In 2014, Discovery Channel aired a controversial documentary where the presenter attempted to get eaten alive by a six-metre anaconda, while wearing a protective suit. The snake attacked, but the stunt was halted before the man was swallowed, since he was in danger of having his arm broken by the anaconda’s constricting coils. Anacondas will always suffocate their prey to death first before swallowing it, since it would be dangerous to have a live deer or tapir kicking in the stomach.

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Even when their prey is dead, swallowing something this large is quite risky for these snakes and they can sometimes die in the attempt. Other large animals such as crocodiles would certainly bite you into smaller chunks first. A large whale could theoretically manage it, although blue whales have a surprisingly narrow oesophagus and can’t swallow anything larger than a melon.

In reality, the only animal large enough to swallow you whole without killing you first, or in the process, is a sperm whale. But even if you manage to dodge its teeth, your death certificate would still say ‘chomped to death’. Sperm whales use their teeth to catch and hold large prey, but they don’t chew with their mouths. This job is delegated to the first of their four stomach chambers. The stomach walls are very thick and muscular, to grind up fish and giant squid, before they pass to the other chambers and digest in the gastric juices.

There is no breathable air in a whale’s stomach, so you would have at most three minutes before you asphyxiated. But before that, you would have been crushed to death in a scene reminiscent of the trash compactor sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV).

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Asked by: Chris Hamer, London

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luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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