Man Was Nearly 'Swallowed' By A Whale — But He's Not The First Person To Survive (Even Recently)

Photo: Packard Family & Sean Steininger / Shutterstock
michael packard whale

There's no shortage of weird events that take place every day, but this may be a hard one to swallow... literally.

Fifty-six-year-old lobster diver, Michael Packard, was diving off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts looking for lobsters, when a humpback whale attempted to swallow him.

“I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water. [W]as free, and I just floated there... I felt around, and I realized there were no teeth and I had felt, really, no great pain," he said. "And then I realized, 'Oh my God, I'm in a whale's mouth. I'm in a whale's mouth, and he's trying to swallow me.'"

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Shortly after entering the whale’s mouth, the whale realized that Packard was not as edible as he seemed and spit him back out. Thankfully, Packard not only survived almost being swallowed but had very minor injuries.

His friend, Josiah Mayo, helped him back on the boat, where Packard was then rushed to shore and taken to Cape Cod Hospital.

At this point, you probably have plenty of questions about Packard's harrowing tale. How did he escape? What does the inside of a whale's mouth feel like? Can whales even swallow humans?

Turns out, plenty of people had these exact same questions!

Packard’s son, Jacob, set up an AMA (Ask Me Anything) for his father, and answered some questions about his “near” death experience as well as his career. And, apparently, this isn't Packard's first time coming dangerously close to death; he actually survived a plane crash in 2001!

Q: Was its (the whale) tongue smooth like a dog’s or scratchy like a cat’s?

A: I was in a dry suit, couldn’t really tell. Also, the mouth was filled with water.

Q: What was your 'last thought' when you realized you’d been eaten by a whale?

A: My wife and kids

Q: How long were you trapped? Did you think you might die?

A: (I was) trapped for about 30-40 seconds. Yes, I was almost convinced that I was going to die today.

Q: How did you get out?

A: Eventually, the whale managed to dislodge me by moving its head and tongue, I think.

Q: What happened after you got out? Were you able to swim to safety or did someone need to help you?

A: My mate pulled me out of the water back on the boat, thankful he was there.

Q: Are you the last lobster diver in your area and why? Also, does the job pay well?

A: It's a really tough and specialized business, trapping is a lot easier for the average person. It pays alright, but it can depend on the season.

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Can whales swallow humans?

Well, it really depends on the whale.

Humpback whales’ throats have a diameter of 4-8 inches, making it impossible to swallow a human; they also have no teeth. A sperm whale, on other hand, can swallow a human. In fact, sperm whales have been noted to swallow giant squids whole.

However, it's highly unlikely that a whale will swallow a human. Iain Kerr, the chief executive officer of Ocean Alliance, explained that humpback whales are known for lunge feeding, in which they open their mouths, accelerate, and "take in 10 SUVs worth of water and fish and then everything else."

Packard just so happened to be the "everything else" in this situation. 

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While being nearly swallowed by a whale is quite the experience, Packard isn't the first person who has found themselves in the mouth of a whale.

In 2019, South African photographer, Rainer Schimpf, had a similar experience when he came into close contact with a bryde whale. Unlike Packard, however, Rainer was not wearing any scuba gear.

In an interview, Schimpf recalled what was going through his mind as his upper body lay inside the whale's mouth. 

"I mean, you can't fight a 15-ton animal. I held my breath and I was prepared, and that's the only thing I could do, I mean there was no other thing I could do," he said at the time. Schimpf is lucky that the animal only held him in his mouth for a few seconds and didn't take him for a dive.

Like Packard, Schimpf returned from the encounter with minimal injuries and hopped right back into the water after a few minutes.

Michael Packard is lucky to be alive, but technically he couldn’t have been swallowed by a whale. It’s like a human attempting to swallow a tennis ball whole — you’d choke.

After his unique encounter, Packard has not been deterred from his passion and will be returning to lobster diving after some well-needed rest.

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LaShawnte Burgess is a freelance writer at YourTango that writes entertainment and news articles.