BARNSTABLE, Mass. (WPRI) — It sounds like something out of a children’s storybook.
Michael Packard, a commercial lobster diver, told WBZ he found himself inside the mouth of a humpback whale Friday morning while in the waters off Provincetown.
“I just felt this huge bump and everything went dark,” Packard recalled.
At first, the 56-year-old Wellfleet man thought he’d been attacked by a shark, but then quickly realized he wasn’t in any pain.
“I realized, ‘oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth’ and he’s trying to swallow me,” he said. “I thought to myself OK, this is it … I’m going to die.”
But then something unexpected happened.
“All of a sudden, he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head,” Packard said. “I was thrown into the air, landed in the water and I was free … I just floated there and I just couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe I got out of that.”
Packard, who received his degree in commercial fishing from the University of Rhode Island (URI), said he was rescued by a crewmate and brought to Cape Cod Hospital.
Dr. Bob Kenney, a marine biologist at URI, said while what Packard experienced is a rare occurrence, it is plausible.
Kenney said humpback whales employ what’s called “gulp-feeding,” which is when they fill their mouths, somewhat blindly, full of water and fish.
That’s why he believes the whale unintentionally trapped Packard in its mouth.
“Their throat is only big enough to get something the size of a mackerel down,” Kenney explained. “So even if it wanted to swallow a person, there’s not enough space in its throat for it to fit through.”
Kenney said because of this, it makes sense that the whale spit Packard back out.
As for Packard, he’s thankful he was able to escape, and that he lives to tell the tale.
“I thought my legs were broken, but I’m just all bruised up, and I made it,” Packard said.