The tale of a lobster diver who claimed to have been swallowed by a humpback whale and survived is being looked upon with skepticism by doctors and experts.
Michael Packard, 57, a commercial lobster diver out of Provincetown, Massachusetts for 40 years was going on routine lobster dive off the coast of Cape Cod last Friday morning when he said he was swallowed whole by a hungry humpback whale.
He claims to have lived to tell the tale because the creature didn’t like how he tasted, and spat him back out.
But one doctor at the Cape Cod hospital that treated him isn’t buying the story.
Michael Packard, 56, suffered only minor injuries after being trapped inside a humpback whale’s mouth for roughly 30 seconds on Friday morning. Experts are wary of his story
‘I realized, oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth … and he’s trying to swallow me,’ Packard told WBZ-TV following the encounter. ‘And I thought to myself OK, this is it – I’m finally gonna die.’
‘He reportedly ascended from a 45-foot depth in 20 to 40 seconds and didn’t have any evidence of barotrauma?’ the Cape Cod Hospital emergency room doctor said to the New York Post.
Although the physician didn’t treat Packard personally, they suggested that someone undergoing such an encounter would have suffered from serious injuries including hearing loss as a result from the sudden change in water pressure.
Packard was released from Cape Cod Hospital Friday afternoon mere hours after the incident with no broken bones and just some soft tissue damage.
Packard told the Cape Cod Times he was ‘completely inside’ the massive mammal and that it ‘It was completely black.’
Other fishermen were also wary of Packard’s whale encounter.
Experts say being eaten by a humpback whale is extremely rare, with one suggesting the whale made a mistake when it sucked Packard in and quickly spat him out (file photo)
‘People who are in the fishing industry, and people who know whales, are finding this hard to believe. It’s a first-ever that this would happen,’ said another lobsterman.
Although humpback whales can grow to 40 tons, their throats are too narrow to swallow a human, experts say.
‘For a guy to be in the middle of that giant school of fish corralled by a whale doesn’t make sense.’
Packard said he thought he had been attacked by a shark, but when he realized he did not feel any sharp teeth and was not in pain, he began to figure out what had happened.
‘I realized, oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth … and he’s trying to swallow me,’ Packard told WBZ-TV following the encounter. ‘And I thought to myself OK, this is it – I’m finally – I’m gonna die.’
Packard, who is an experienced diver, started to think about his wife and his 12 and 15 year old sons, and began to struggle inside the beast’s mouth until, he said, he saw a light and the whale started shaking his head side-to side.
‘I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,’ Packard recounted. ‘I was free and I just floated there. I couldn’t believe… I’m here to tell it.’
He estimates he was in the whale’s mouth for about 30 seconds, but continued to breathe because he still had his breathing apparatus in.
Packard had been a lobster diver for 40 years at the time of the incident and was rescued by a crewmate who called authorities on the shore
Packard took to Facebook following the incident to thank the Provincetown rescue squad for its ‘caring and help’
Packard was rescued by his crewmate Josiah Mayo who was aboard their boat ‘The J n’ J.’
Mayo claims to have watched in shock as the water beside the boat erupted as the whale surfaced – and Packard flew out of the mammal’s mouth.
He plucked Packard out of the water, according to the Cape Cod Times, and used his radio to call authorities on the shore.
The Provincetown Fire Department later confirmed that a call came in about a diver who had suffered serious injuries to his legs ‘after interacting with a whale.’
At first Packard said, he thought he had broken his legs in the incident, but doctors later told he he just had soft tissue damage and bruises, and he was released from a local hospital later that day.
In a following Facebook post, Packard thanked the Provincetown rescue squad for its ‘caring and help’
He said that when he was stuck inside the whale’s mouth his thoughts turned to his wife and his 12 and 15 year old sons
Experts say it is extremely rare to be swallowed by a humpback whale, Peter Corkeron, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium estimating there is a one in 1 trillion chance someone would be eaten by a whale.
When a humpback feeds, he said, ‘they do what we call gulp feeding, and they an open their mouths up incredibly widely,’ which Jooke Robbins, the director of Humpback Whales Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies, said could limit their forward vision.
‘Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake, and an accident on the part of the humpback,’ Robbins concluded.
‘He was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ Corkeron conceded.
The humpback likely hoped it would get a mouthful of sand lance fish, which live in the waters off Cape Cod.
Experts say whales are generally placid around humans, and show little aggression towards them.
But they have warned divers to stay at least 100 feet away from the powerful animals at all times, because even an accidental brush with one can be very dangerous – as Packard claims to have discovered.
Robbins said she had no reason to doubt the account.
‘I didn’t think it was a hoax because I knew the people involved… So I have every reason to believe that what they say is true,’ she said.
Robbins said she had never heard of an ‘accident’ of this type, but ‘it may be that he (Packard) was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘When they (whales) fish… they rush forward, open their mouth and engulf the fish and the water very quickly,’ she said, adding they have large mouths, but throats so narrow they wouldn’t be able to swallow a human.
She added that Packard was unlikely to have been swallowed, as, despite their massive mouths, their throats aren’t large enough for a person to fit through.
The whale, which according to Mayo’s description was on the young side, ‘may not be able to detect quickly enough that something is in the way.’
Even if all the details weren’t yet known, one thing was clear for Robbins: ‘It is important for people to be quite aware… And when they see a whale, keep a good distance. It’s really important to give whales their space.’