A New England lobsterman has described the moment he realised he was trapped in the mouth of a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.
“Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth and he’s trying to swallow me. I thought to myself, ‘hey, this is it. I’m finally going to die. There’s no getting out of here,’’’ Michael Packard told a local news station in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Packard, 56, was 45ft down off Race Point in search of lobsters when the feeding whale, presumed to be a juvenile, took him. He said he “felt this huge bump and everything went dark”.
At first the fisherman assumed he had been attacked by a great white [shark] buthe could find no teeth. “It was happening so fast,” Packard said. “My only thought was how to get out of that mouth.”
Partially ingested in the leviathan’s maw, and surrounded by a curtain of filtering baleen, Packard said he kept breathing into the regulator of his scuba tank.
“I realised there was no overcoming a beast of that size. He was going to do with me what he wanted to do. He was going to spit me out or swallow me.”
Later, during the half-minute ordeal, Packard said he began to consider his situation more clearly: “Here I am, I’m breathing air. Am I going to be breathing air in this whale’s mouth until it runs out? Crazy stuff.”
The whale thought better.
“All of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head. I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,” Packard recalled. “I was free and I just floated there. I couldn’t believe … I’m here to tell it.”
Boat captain Joe Francis, who had been following Packard’s bubbles, told CBS Boston: “I saw Mike come flying out of the water feet first with his flippers on and land back in the water. I jumped aboard the boat. We got him up, got his tank off. Got him on the deck and calmed him down and he goes, ‘Joe, I was in the mouth of a whale.’ He goes ‘I can’t believe it, I was in the mouth of a whale, Joe!’”
Packard was taken to hospital and discharged later that day. “He’s damn lucky to be alive,” Francis added.
Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan and Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World, and a friend of Packard and his fishing partner Josiah Mayo, says the humpback was almost certainly as surprised as the diver.
Hoare says Herring Cove beach, adjacent to Race Point and where the incident took place, is shallow and known for gatherings of juvenile humpbacks feeding on sand eels at this time of year.
Whales have poor forward vision, he noted. “Mike would have been down there collecting lobsters, and the whale, trying to swallow sand eels, would have suddenly found he had a diver in his mouth while he or she was dragging in a huge volume of water.”
But before the whale could push the water out through the baleen filter – and lick the sand eels off with the tongue – the individual would have found Packard. Since a humpback’s esophagus wont accept anything larger than a melon, the whale would probably have panicked. “This young humpback is hanging out, it really hasn’t learned how to feed properly and doing stupid things, and suddenly he’s in trouble.
“He’s gulped Michael and now has this huge thing in mouth. That would be totally freaky for a whale, so it’s gone up to the surface, and in a human way, vomited him out. The last thing a whale wants in its mouth is something so big it would choke it.
“Michael is inside the whale, and God knows what he’s thinking, but anyone on the Cape knows the problem with great whites. “They are there, and they’re huge, and three people have been attacked – one fatally – in the past year,” says Hoare.
Hoare says Packard will be transformed in to mythic figure in Provincetown – “the Jonah who came back. He’ll never have pay for another drink for the rest of his life.” The film-maker John Waters, a seasonal resident of Provincetown, had been in touch. “Are you jealous, and do you believe it?” Waters wrote.