A Humpback Whale Almost Accidentally Swallowed a Human

·4 min read
Photo credit: DON EMMERT - Getty Images
Photo credit: DON EMMERT - Getty Images

A humpback whale had the unfortunate experience of almost swallowing a human man on Friday. According to local news station WBZ-TV, Michael Packard, 56, was diving for lobster off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts early on Friday morning, when, suddenly, everything went dark. “Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth, and he’s trying to swallow me,” recounted the lobster diver. “I thought to myself, ‘hey, this is it. I’m finally going to die. There’s no getting out of here.’”

Trying to swallow you? Please! Let’s consider the science. According to marine scientists everywhere, humpback whales have no interest in eating humans. The conveniently titled whalefacts.org reports that most whale species don’t even have throats large enough to swallow an adult male. Discussing the situation at hand, Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, told the Cape Cod Times, "Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback.”

Really? It’s the whale’s fault? It’s not like it purposefully migrated to a local swimming hole and conveniently unhinged its massive jaw right as a happy pack of swimmers splashed by. Herring Cove beach, where Packard was diving, is known for the humpbacks who gather there to feed on sand eels this time of year. If anyone is to blame, it’s the guy who essentially dove right into a whale’s kitchen during breakfast — the famously most important meal of the day for all mammals.

Of course, it’s not really Packard’s fault either. In all of history, a whale has swallowed a man only one time, and honestly, Jonah had it coming. Since that unfortunate biblical incident, whales and humans have generally stayed out of each other's way. “It’s a very unusual accident …” said Peter Corkeron, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, to a WBZ-TV news anchor. “This is a one in a — goodness knows what — trillion chance,” he said. “He was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

According to Corkeron, humpback whales are gulp feeders, which means they open their mouths very widely to eat and take in whatever is in their immediate surroundings. Oftentimes, they can’t see what’s in front of them which is why they frequently end up tangled in fishing nets. And seeing as a humpback whale cannot process anything larger than a melon, having a human end up in its maw would be a terrifying experience for the damn whale, too. “This young humpback is hanging out, it really hasn’t learned how to feed properly and doing stupid things, and suddenly he’s in trouble,” explained Packard’s friend, the writer Philip Hoare. “He’s gulped Michael and now has this huge thing in his mouth. That would be totally freaky for a whale.”

Inevitably, the whale did what many of us do when we accidentally swallow something gross and barfed Packard back up into the sea. “All of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head,” Packard recalled. “I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water. was free, and I just floated there.” Captain Joe Francis, who was chartering a fishing expedition nearby, confirmed the spectacle.

“I saw Mike come flying out of the water feet first with his flippers on and land back in the water,” Francis said. “I jumped aboard the boat. We got him up, got his tank off. Got him on the deck and calmed him down and he goes, ‘Joe, I was in the mouth of a whale’ he goes ‘I can’t believe it, I was in the mouth of a whale, Joe!’”

Packard was transferred to a local hospital but released later that day after doctors confirmed he hadn’t sustained any serious injuries. “Just some soft tissue damage,” Packard said. As for the whale, friends said he is spooked but recovering and snacking on krill and plankton to wash away the taste of pasty, New England male.

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