An experienced lobster diver survived being caught in a humpback whale’s mouth near Provincetown, Massachusetts on Friday morning.
Michael Packard was searching for lobsters on the ocean floor on his second dive of the day, approximately 45 feet below the surface, when he said he felt a bump and then he was in total darkness.
“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove, and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Mr Packard told WBZ-TV, following his release from the Cape Cod Hospital.
At first the 45-year-old thought that he was in the mouth of a great white shark, which are common in the area. But when he realised that he hadn’t suffered any obvious wounds from sharp teeth, he determined that he was in the mouth of a whale.
“I realised – oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth and he’s trying to swallow me.”
“And I thought to myself OK, this is it, I’m gonna die”
Mr Packard said that his thoughts then went to his wife and sons, whom he feared he would never see again.
He estimates that he was in the whale’s mouth for 30 to 40 seconds. Mr Packard was able to continue to breathe, as he had his regulator in his mouth, but could feel the whale “squeezing with the muscles in his mouth” the whole time.
Mr Packard told CBSN Boston: “It was happening so fast, my only thought was how to get out of that mouth, and I realized, there was no overcoming of a beast of that size. He was going to do with me what he wanted to do.”
Luckily, fate was on Mr Packard’s side. He said he could tell that the whale didn’t like having him in its mouth.
“All of a sudden he went up to the surface. He just erupted and started shaking his head, and I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water and I was free.”
He added: “I just floated there. I couldn’t believe I got out of that.”
Josiah Mayo, a crewman from Mr Packard’s boat, saw the whale burst to the surface and spit out Mr Packard. Mr Mayo retrieved Mr Packard from the water before calling the shore by radio, and speedily returning to the Provincetown Pier.
An ambulance met Mr Packard at the pier and took him to Cape Cod Hospital; he was released Friday afternoon, having sustained some bruising and soft tissue damage to his legs whilst in the whale’s mouth.
Jooke Robbins, the director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Centre for Coastal Studies in Provincetown told The Cape Cod Times that what happened to Mr Packard was most likely an accident, caused by a somewhat clumsy, juvenile whale.
She said that as humpback whales feed, their mouths open and billow out in a parachute-like manner, obstructing their vision, which is likely what led to Mr Packard becoming trapped in the whale’s mouth. She added that humpback whales are not known to be aggressive, especially towards humans.
Incidents of humpback whales injuring swimmers and divers are exceedingly rare, if not nonexistent, Ms Robbins said. Adding: “It is not something I have heard happening before”.