‘I was completely inside’: Lobster diver swallowed by humpback whale off Provincetown

Lobster Diver Swallowed by Humpback Whale off Provincetown

Introduction

On a fateful morning off the coast of Provincetown, veteran lobster diver Michael Packard had an encounter that would change his life forever. As he entered the water for his second dive of the day, little did he know that he would soon find himself inside the mouth of a humpback whale. This astonishing incident has garnered widespread attention and disbelief.

The Dive

The dive took place near Herring Cove Beach, with Packard’s vessel, the “Ja’n J,” surrounded by a fleet of boats catching striped bass. The water temperature was a comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the visibility reached about 20 feet. As Packard descended, he observed the abundant marine life, including schools of sand lances and stripers swimming by.

Commercial lobster divers like Packard pluck lobsters off the sandy bottom. However, Packard’s dive took a terrifying turn when, at a depth of about 10 feet, he suddenly experienced an immense force pushing him. Within seconds, he found himself engulfed in darkness.

Lobster diver Michael Packard, 56, of Wellfleet, gives the thumbs up Friday morning from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where he was taken after he was injured in an encounter with a humpback whale Provincetown. He was later released from the hospital.

Lobster diver Michael Packard, 56, gives the thumbs up after his encounter with a humpback whale. (Source: Cape Cod Times)

Inside the Whale

As Packard found himself in complete darkness, he realized he was moving and could feel the whale’s muscles contracting around him. Initially, he believed he was inside a great white shark but soon discovered that he had been swallowed by a humpback whale. The sheer magnitude of the situation hit him, and he feared for his life.

Describing the terrifying experience, Packard 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.”

A Fight for Survival

Equipped with scuba gear, Packard began struggling inside the whale’s mouth. In response, the whale started shaking its head, indicating its displeasure. Packard estimated that he was inside the whale for an agonizing 30 to 40 seconds before the whale finally surfaced.

As light reappeared, Packard saw an opportunity to escape. The whale forcefully expelled him from its mouth, throwing him back into the water. Josiah Mayo, a crewman who witnessed the incident, quickly picked him up and radioed for help. Packard was then transported to Cape Cod Hospital by a Provincetown Fire Department ambulance.

The Provincetown-based vessel commercial lobster diver Michael Packard was working from Friday morning off Herring Cove Beach. While in the mouth of the whale, “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 Provincetown-based vessel where the incident occurred. (Source: Cape Cod Times)

Humpback Whales and Feeding Behavior

Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, believes that the incident was a mistake on the part of the humpback whale. Humpbacks are generally not aggressive animals, particularly towards humans. Robbins suspects that the whale involved in the incident was a juvenile feeding on sand lance.

Humpback whales have a unique feeding mechanism. When they open their mouths to feed, it billows out like a parachute, obstructing their forward vision. This is why they often become entangled in fishing gear. While incidents of humpbacks injuring swimmers or swallowing humans are extremely rare, Robbins explains that the esophagus of non-toothed whales is too small to actually swallow a human. However, they can wrap their mouths around large objects and then spit them out.

A Rare Encounter

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist and whale expert at the Center for Coastal Studies, agrees that the encounter was likely accidental. While it requires a federal permit for professionals to get close to whales underwater, such incidents are almost unheard of. Stormy Mayo’s son, Josiah Mayo, who was present during the incident, assured Packard’s sister that it was not a great white shark, which relieved her greatly.

Robbins and Mayo emphasize that the circumstances leading to Packard’s encounter with the whale were highly unlikely. The incident serves as a reminder of the unpredictable nature of marine life and the need for caution when interacting with these magnificent creatures.

Michael Packard’s Resilience

Despite suffering soft tissue damage, Packard was released from Cape Cod Hospital the same day. He expressed his gratitude that the incident did not involve a white shark, considering the prevalence of these sharks in the area. Packard’s determination is evident as he plans to return to diving as soon as he has fully recovered.

Dangers of Lobster Diving

Commercial lobster divers like Packard face various dangers in their line of work. The waters off Provincetown are known for their strong currents and unpredictable conditions. Divers must navigate these challenges while collecting lobsters from the sandy shelf where they emerge.

Spider Gibson, a charter boat fisherman, attests to Packard’s expertise, stating that he is the best lobster diver he has ever seen. Packard’s experience and knowledge have allowed him to navigate the risks associated with his profession.

A Survivor’s Tale

Packard’s extraordinary encounter with the humpback whale is not the first life-threatening situation he has faced. Ten years ago, he survived a plane crash in Costa Rica that claimed the lives of the pilot, co-pilot, and another passenger. Packard sustained multiple serious injuries but managed to survive thanks to the efforts of rescuers.

His remarkable resilience and ability to overcome adversity underscore his determination to continue pursuing his passion for lobster diving.

Conclusion

Michael Packard’s encounter with a humpback whale off Provincetown is a story that defies belief. The incident serves as a reminder of the awe-inspiring power and complexity of marine life. While it was a harrowing experience for Packard, his survival and resilience showcase the strength of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary circumstances.