10 True Stories of Survival Cannibalism


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Modern Day Survival Cannibalism
This gentleman was one of only two survivors of a boat where 49 people died after drifting more than three weeks at sea. He is helped by civil workers for transport to a Santo Domingo hospital in the Dominican Republic on Dec. 5, 2008. © Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Corbis

A lot of our stories of cannibalism are from a different era, and it's easy to dismiss them as relics from the past. But the tale of a group of Dominicans who set out for a better life in Puerto Rico -- and ended up living a nightmare at sea -- happened in 2008.

Thirty-three people had set out for the 160-mile (257-kilometer) journey in a wooden vessel, some paying as much as $1,800 for a spot on the fishing boat. When the engines malfunctioned a day and a half in, passengers were split about whether to turn back or press on, but the captain wanted to continue. The boat essentially drifted on open water for six more days until the first passenger died. The next night, the captain disappeared -- either thrown over by a passenger, or making a desperate attempt to swim for help.

The men and women began dying daily. After two weeks at sea -- and 27 of the 33 passengers already dead of dehydration and starvation -- the five survivors finally made a decision to cut some pieces of meat from the leg and chest of the last man to die. They took the small bits and swallowed them like pills.

They weren't forced to resort to any more cannibalistic feeding, as they were found the next day, rescued by the United States Coast Guard. One survivor did confirm that the human flesh was a lot like beef [source: Associated Press].

Author's Note

After spending a few days with people who turned to human meat for survival -- maybe not in the flesh (ahem), but at least reading about them -- I discovered a disturbing thing: I totally got it. While I certainly can't imagine making the choice, I no longer found myself thinking that it was a weak one. Instead, it really was a matter of survival, and I can't blame anyone for grasping for any chance to live.

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Sources

  • American Experience. "The Greely Expedition." PBS. 2011. (May 16, 2013) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/greely/player/
  • Associated Press. "Adrift at sea, migrants turn to cannibalism to survive." NBC Southern California. Nov. 4, 2008. (May 16, 2013) http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/archive/Migrants_Adrift_at_Sea_Turn_to_Cannibalism_to_Survive.html
  • BBC. "Fact File: Hiroshima and Nagasaki." WW2 People's War. 2003 and 2005. (May 28, 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/timeline/factfiles/nonflash/a6652262.shtml
  • Bivens, Matt. "New facts point up horror of Nazi Siege of Leningrad." The Los Angeles Times. Jan. 27, 1994. (May 16, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/1994-01-27/news/mn-15973_1_900-day-blockade
  • Burton, Gabrielle. "Donner Party: Did they or didn't they?" The Huffington Post. April 17, 2010. (May 16, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabrielle-burton/donner-party-did-they-or_b_541658.html
  • Cassidy, Kathryn. "The Franklin Expedition: 1845-1859." The Victorian Web. March 27, 2002. (May 16, 2013) http://www.victorianweb.org/history/franklin/franklin.html
  • Diamond, Jared. "Living through the Donner Party." Discover Magazine. March 1, 1992. (May 16, 2013) http://discovermagazine.com/1992/mar/livingthroughthe4#.UZFQ6yt4ZLo
  • The Economist. "The cannibalism of the sea." May 11, 2000. (May 16, 2013) http://www.economist.com/node/333448
  • Ramsland, Katherine. "Alred [sic] Packer: The Maneater of Colorado." TruTv.com. 2013. (May 16, 2013) http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/history/alfred_packer/2.html
  • Rawson, Claude. "The Ultimate Taboo." The New York Times. April 16, 2000. (May 16, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/04/16/reviews/000416.16rawsont.html
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  • Stromberg, Joseph. "Starving settlers in Jamestown Colony resorted to cannibalism." Smithsonian.com. May 1, 2013. (May 16, 2013) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Starving-Settlers-in-Jamestown-Colony-Resorted-to-Eating-A-Child-205472161.html
  • The Telegraph. "Uruguay rugby team plays match 40 years after Andes crash." Oct. 14, 2012. (May 16, 2013) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/uruguay/9608287/Uruguay-rugby-team-plays-match-40-years-after-Andes-crash.html
  • Teuber, Andreas. "The Mignonette, 1884 (Queen v. Dudley)." Brandeis University. Feb. 5, 2004. (May 16, 2013) http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/handout9.html
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