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What happens to a corpse in the water?
paintedveils wrote in little_details
Setting: Present day, southern California

Previous Search Attempts: This Slate article gives a pretty comprehensive answer to the behavior of dead bodies in the water, and includes links to more detailed sources. Super relevant to anyone with questions how to tell whether a body was dead before going into the water or not, how to tell if someone was a drowning victim, etc.

I've also Wiki'ed "Drowning," Googled variations of "What happens to bowel bladder of drowning victim," and also turned up a semi-helpful PowerPoint link called Death by Trauma that includes an informative section on Drowning - very science-y and technical (too much so for my purposes). Nothing is said about the bowel/bladder.

What I want to know is, does the body void itself (bowel and bladder) in the water as it would on land?

I've confirmed that it often will on land (depending on different scenarios), but I haven't been able to determine whether this will happen if a person drowned and the body was left in the water for 6-7 hours at least. Let's say the water is fairly temperate/warm, it's a contained pool of freshwater, and outdoors.

Any help would be great! Thank you!

ETA: This community is the BEST. Answer seems to be unanimously that the body WOULD void itself in the water.

Extra Follow-Up: What would a body left in the water smell like when retrieved from the water?

Yup. No reason not too. Though it might be less noticeable as stuff is washed away.

I would imagine so, unless the water pressure is sufficient to prevent it.

If I recall correctly, this book right here is just excellent for questions like that.

(And since the reason for voiding is that the muscles relax due to death, I don't see how the voiding would fail to happen, no matter the cause of death or where the corpse is.)

Gotcha, thank you! And thanks for the book rec - that looks HUGELY relevant and helpful!

Yeah, it would. If the person had anything in his or her lower intestine and bladder, it'd come out once the muscles relaxed in death. (If they happened to be wearing something like a diver's drysuit, whoever discovered the body would have a real fun little surprise--although after several hours the skin at neck and wrists would have softened and might let water in and matter out.)

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer! That makes a lot of sense. Proceeding with story :P

If you want appearance, I saw the body of a jumper off the Golden Gate Bridge one Christmas, and I could not believe how blue the skin was. A real blue-gray, unlike anything you've ever seen on a live person. Also bloated, or else the person was overweight.

The body will bloat dramatically and the skin turn a deep blue-grey.

I'm not sure if the body would void anything in the intestines before the fish started to feed on the body. If it was bleeding in the ocean, a shark would zero in on it, because they're more often than not scavengers. In fresh water, there's the likelihood an alligator or crocodile would find it and go to town. In such cases, the animal might make a way for the bodily fluids to escape before they're voided. Either way, the stuff will come out and be diluted into the water.

I think the water pressure would cause the voiding to happen nigh instantaneously. Think about when you go swimming. Ever done so with a full bladder? It makes you have to pee super bad, same as when you wear tight pants.

That being said, I would like to share a joke that this all reminds me of: Having a smoking section in a public restaurant is like having a peeing section in a public pool.

Haha OK, what you said made SO much sense that it absolutely convinced me that YES body voids itself is the only answer. Thank you so much!

What would a body left in the water smell like when retrieved from the water?


2010-09-25 06:23 pm (UTC)

This link might be useful: esp the section on immersion.

In your scenario - fresh water, enclosed, fairly warm - putrefaction would be relatively fast, but I'm not sure it would proceed to the extent that it could be smelt in 6-7 hours.