Mass. fisherman OK after whale gulps him down, spits him out

Provincetown Fire Chief Michael Trovato said the call came in as medical aid for a diver who had suffered serious injuries after interacting with a whale

Sean Philip Cotter
Boston Herald

PROVINCETOWN — A Cape Cod fisherman is recovering after miraculously emerging without serious injuries after spending nearly a minute in the maw of a humpback whale who mistook him for a snack.

"I was lobster diving and a humpback whale tried to eat me," fisherman Michael Packard wrote on Facebook.

Packard's mother said he was recovering in a local hospital.
Packard's mother said he was recovering in a local hospital. (Photo/Packard Family)

This salty tale begins innocuously, with the 56-year-old sea captain Packard on Friday morning looking for lobsters near Provincetown, where he's from. He dove into the ocean to check a trap — when a passing whale gulped him down.

"He was in a whale's mouth for 30 to 40 seconds, and then he was spit out," his mother, local painter Anne Packard, told the Herald on Friday afternoon.

Michael Packard wrote on Facebook that the whale swam to the surface and spewed him out.

"I realized I'm in a whale's mouth, and he's trying to swallow me," a shaken-sounding Michael Packard told a WBZ reporter outside of the hospital a few hours after the incident, according to video from the TV station. "I thought to myself, 'Hey, this is it. I'm going to die.'"

But happily, his physical recovery seems to be going swimmingly. His mother said he was recovering in a local hospital, and had been pretty doped up to tend to his myriad bumps and bruises — but that he's but doing pretty well, all things considered. Medical personnel had suspected he'd broken at least one of his legs, but it appears he escaped even that.

"He doesn't have any broken bones," she said. "He's terribly fortunate."

She said she'd just talked to him on the phone, and they didn't get too far into what it's like in a whale's mouth.

But she did say, "He said he knew it was the end — he absolutely accepted it."

But whales don't actually eat people. Experts say this kind of behavior is essentially unheard of, and likely is just a freak incident — a fluke, if you will — in which an open-mouthed whale and a diving man happened to be in the same place at the same time. So there's a pretty good chance no one outside of Nineveh-bound biblical figures can match Packard's story.

"It's just unbelievable," Anne Packard said. She noted that he'd been in a nasty plane crash years ago in Costa Rica when he was fishing there, and was able to walk away.

"He's blessed, I guess," she said.

Michael Packard has been fishing in the P-town area from his boat, the J&J, for years. No, it's not named after the coronavirus vaccine maker — it's after his two sons, of whom neither is named Jonah. Packard previously has worked the waters of Central America and California before circling back to the Cape.

Anne Packard said the last time she talked to him before the whale-consumption incident she'd told him he needs to write a book about all of his weird experiences. But Michael laughed it off; he's not one for this kind of attention, she said. And indeed, he told the Herald in a text message that he was simply too swamped with attention, and didn't want to talk anymore about the experience.

But the whale chomp might have made it unavoidable.

"He doesn't want to make a big deal out of it, but it's becoming a big deal," Anne Packard said. "I mean, how many people have been in the mouth of a whale?"


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