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James Bartley – Modern Day Jonah?


Well, the winds refused to calm down on Thursday, so we weren’t able to run any of our regular Whale Watch Cruises. Those of you who know me, know that I hate to miss an opportunity to talk about the whales. So instead of leaving you with no report, I’ll share one of my favorite strange Whale-Tales….

In the 1890′s, a whaler with very pale and mottled skin by the name of James Bartley claimed that he had been swallowed by a Sperm Whale. He said that he had been pursuing the whale off the coast of the Falkland Islands when he was thrown from his long boat. After searching for him for a short while, he reported that his shipmates gave up on finding him, presuming he was lost at sea.

Two days after he went missing, the crew on The Star of the East killed a Sperm whale, and lo and behold — they found Bartley in the whale’s stomach! Supposedly, Bartley was a “raving lunatic” for several weeks, but then recovered enough to remember the experience — enough that he was able to make a modest living travelling around the world with an exhibit of a stuffed Sperm Whale. Bartley claimed his skin appeared the way it did due to permanent damage caused by the whale’s gastric juices during the two days he spent inside the whale’s stomach.

At the time, the story of this “modern day Jonah” was very popular in religious tracts and broadcasts, but it has since been debunked. Besides the obvious fact that it wouldn’t be possible to live inside a live Sperm Whale for two days, Bartley’s supposed ship, The Star of the East, wasn’t even a whaling boat! And even it had been a renegade whaling ship, there was no record of a James Bartley even working on board. Even the wife of the man who captained The Star of the East claimed the story was “a good yarn”.

Have a great weekend. Hopefully, the winds will abate, and I’ll have a weekend’s worth of sightings to report on Monday!


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