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Man Describes Being Swallowed by Humpback Whale: 'I'm Done, I'm Dead'

Jessica Thomson 4-5 minutes 6/13/2022

A man who survived being swallowed by a humpback whale has described how he thought he was going to die as the huge animal squeezed him in its mouth.

Michael Packard, a 56-year-old commercial lobster diver found himself inside the mouth of a humpback whale off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, in June last year.

He was diving for lobsters on the seabed on a Friday morning near Herring Cove Beach when he encountered more marine life than he bargained for.

"It was just a normal day for me. I go out right at sunrise. I get in the water and I did two dives. And then the third dive, I dove down and I was descending to the bottom. And I just got slammed. Just like a freight train... and then all of a sudden it went black," Packard told the Cape Cod Times.

Packard had been swept up into the mouth of a humpback whale, an animal that's often seen off the Massachusetts coast.

Humpbacks are baleen whales, meaning that instead of teeth, they have a very fine comb made of keratin (the same protein that human hair and nails are made out of), which they use to sieve water out of their mouths, while keeping their small krill prey inside.

Unexpectedly Large Prey

Despite not eating larger prey, humpbacks and other baleen whales seem to accidentally get bigger animals in their mouths quite often, sometimes including humans. Other whale-mouth incidents have include a Bryde's whale that engulfed and spat out a tour guide off the South African coast.

"I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth," 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."

The whale appeared to notice that it had bitten off more than it could chew, and started to try and "spit" Packard out.

"And then [the whale] started going up. All of a sudden it just got to the surface and he started shaking his head and getting all erratic... and then boom! I f**king fly out of his mouth. And I'm like, 'Oh my god.' But there I was just floating on the surface. And I was just looking up in the sky. I'm f**ked up, I know, but I think I'm going to live."

Packard was inside the whale for around 40 seconds, he estimates.

He wasn't swallowed in the true sense of the word. As Nicola Hodgins of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a U.K. nonprofit, told National Geographic, while a humpback can easily fit a human inside its huge 10-foot mouth, it's scientifically impossible for the whale to swallow a human, as their throats are only around size of a human fist, and only stretch to a maximum diameter of 15 inches.

Luckily for Packard, the average human male has a shoulder width of over 16 inches.

"Thank god I kept breathing, so I didn't get the bends, or whatever," Packard said. "My lungs didn't explode. I was breathing and he came up at the right ascent."

Packard was picked up by crewman Josiah Mayo, who called by radio to shore and took Packard back to the pier, where a Provincetown Fire Department ambulance took him to Cape Cod Hospital.

Back to Work

His incredible story is being made into a film by Boston Globe staffer and filmmaker David Abel.

He seems relatively unperturbed by the whole affair, telling the Cape Cod Times: "I've heard people that have had life/death experiences and how it's changed their lives and I don't know, given them a new outlook on life, and like it's a gift and all that, and I didn't get any of that," he said. "I'm still the same old guy doing my same old s**t."

Packard returned to his underwater job only three weeks after his bizarre cetacean encounter.

"In my occupation, I always have some trepidation before I get in the water. It crosses my mind, but I can't focus on it. I just shoot it out of my mind. I was like, 'this is your job,' and I get down and I don't even think about it," he said.

A file photo of a humpback whale lunge feeding in California. A man who survived being swallowed by a humpback whale has described how he thought he was going to die. iStock / Getty Images Plus