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Michael Packard

“Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth”

Michael Packard after his ordeal. Artie Raslich/Getty Images

Veteran lobster catcher Michael Packard was on his second dive of the day off the coast of Massachusetts last Friday when “something truly biblical happened”, says Doug Fraser in the Cape Cod Times. The 56-year-old was swallowed by a humpback whale.

A little before 8am, the water was a balmy 15C. Packard saw schools of sand lances and striped bass go by, then he “felt a huge bump and everything went dark”. At first he thought he’d been attacked by a shark, but he “couldn’t feel any teeth”. Then he realised: “Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth… and he’s trying to swallow me.”

It was pitch black. Packard felt the whale’s throat muscles contracting, and thought he was done for. “All I could think of was my boys – they’re 12 and 15 years old.” Then, all of a sudden, the whale “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.” A crewmate hauled him back into the boat and the Provincetown fire department rushed him to a local hospital.

Humpback whales feed by opening their mouths wide to gulp down as much fish or krill as possible. Marine scientists think the swallowing incident was accidental: a humpback’s mouth can stretch to 10ft wide, but its throat is only the size of a human fist. This wasn’t Packard’s first lucky escape: 20 years ago he survived a plane crash in the Costa Rican jungle that killed three people. Despite his wife’s pleas for him to get another job, he has “no plans” to give up on his 40-year career.