A humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod bit off more than it could chew on Friday when it accidentally caught a commercial lobster diver in its mouth. Michael Packard told CNN affiliate WBZ he was diving off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts when he unwittingly became a modern-day Jonah.
“I got down to about 45 feet of water, and all of a sudden I just felt this huge bump, and everything went dark,” he told the outlet. “And I could sense that I was moving, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, did I just get bit by a shark?’”
“Then I felt around, and I realized there was no teeth,” Packard continued. “And then I realized, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth... and he’s trying to swallow me.’”
Fearing he was going to die, his thoughts went to his wife and children. He estimates that he spent about 30 seconds in the humpback’s mouth, breathing all the while because he still had his breathing apparatus on, before the whale surfaced, shook its head, and spit him out. Rumor has it the whale was last seen submitting a strongly worded Yelp review about its experience.
Packard was rescued by his crewmate in a nearby boat, rushed to shore, and taken to a nearby hospital. Aside from being “all bruised up,” he said, he walked away from the unusual encounter without any injuries.
Biologist Jooke Robbins, the director of the Humpback Whale Studies Program at Provincetown’s Center for Coastal Studies, said in an interview with CNN that the whale likely caught him in its mouth by accident as the species is not known to be aggressive.
“We don’t really see humpback whales doing anything like this normally,” Robbins told the outlet. “I think it was a surprise to all involved.”
When humpbacks engage in so-called “lunge feeding,” she continued, they shoot forward in the water with their mouths open to quickly catch a large amount of food. In these moments, they don’t always see what, or in this case who, they’re gulping down.
Robbins said that Packard likely wasn’t in any danger of being swallowed though, because while humpback’s massive mouths can hold up to 5,000 gallons of water, their throats aren’t large enough to swallow prey much larger than their usual diet of krill and small fish.
“It’s a little like sitting down to a really nice meal, and into your mouth flies a fly,” she told CNN.
Charles Mayo, another marine biologist at the Center for Coastal Studies, told the outlet that Packard was in more danger from the air pressure in his own lungs as the whale surfaced to spit him out.
“If you come up to atmospheric pressure, and you’ve held your breath, you could develop an embolism,” Mayo said. He added that to get out of such a situation unscathed, Packard, who is an experienced diver, must have relied on his expertise to remain calm during the whole ordeal. Well, as calm as you can be when you almost become a leviathan’s snack.
“The reason he’s still around is because he’s smart,” Mayo said via CNN. “He’s a smart guy, he’s a tough guy, and he’s a lucky guy.”
Update: 6/13/21, 3:31 p.m. ET: If you’re curious to learn more about the experience, Packard’s son hosted an “ask me anything” forum on Reddit over the weekend on his dad’s behalf since he “isn’t the most internet-savvy person.” You can check it out here.