Lobster Diver Survives Being Swallowed by Whale

This article comes from the Bent Fishing Podcast’s “Fish News” segment, where hosts Joe Cermele and Miles Nolte go head-to-head to find and report the most interesting and amusing fishy stories across sources far and wide—from respected scientific journals to trashy tabloids.

Friday, June 11 started out as a pretty typical day for Michael Packard. He set out on his boat from Herring Cove Beach to dive for lobsters. He would never guess where he’d end up later that morning.

Lobster divers grab lobsters from the sandy bottom as they emerge from cold, deep channels. As Packard dove down he was surrounded by schools of sand lance and stripers, but he was stopped about 35 feet down and 10 feet from the bottom.

“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard told the Cape Cod Times Friday afternoon after his release from the local hospital. “I could sense I was moving and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.”

Packard initially thought he must be in the mouth of a great white shark (which frequent the waters he was diving in) but the lack of teeth led him to realize that he was actually inside the mouth of a whale.

“It was completely black,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys, they’re 12 and 15 years old.”

As he struggled inside of the nearly 35-foot long humpback whale, the whale itself was clearly not pleased to be hosting an entire adult man inside its mouth and began shaking its head back and forth. Packard estimates he was inside of the mouth for 30 to 40 seconds before being spat out on the surface.

“I saw Mike flying out of the water, feet-first with his flippers on,” Capt. Joe Francis, Packard’s diving partner, told CNN. Francis was able to remove Packard from the water and alert for help on the radio. Fortunately, Packard escaped the mouth of the humpback with limited soft-tissue injuries.

This isn’t the only instance of people accidentally ending up in the mouth of a whale. A few years ago a professional diver was engulfed and spat out by a massive Bryde's whale off the coast of South Africa while filming a sardine run. And a couple of kayakers off the coast of Avilia Beach, California, took a tumble from the mouth of a breaching humpback. None of these people reported any injuries associated with the encounters.

The famed biblical tale of Jonah surviving for three days and nights in the belly of a whale is frequently brought up when these interactions occur. Some sources are even calling Packard a “Modern Day Jonah.” To be clear, Packard was not technically swallowed by the whale—he never made it down the digestive tract beyond the whale’s mouth.

Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, told the Cape Cod Times that "based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback.” She believed the incident was due to a juvenile whale feeding on sand lance. With mouths open to feed, their forward vision is blocked, and this is typically how so many whales get tangled up in fishing nets.

In a video interview with CBS Boston, Packard, cigarette in mouth, still adorned in hospital scrubs, limps out of a vehicle to recount his adventure. “All of a sudden he went up to the surface. He erupted and started shaking his head. I got thrown in the air and landed in the water and I was free. I just floated there. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I escaped.”

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Feature image via Packard Family.