Lobster diver survives being trapped in whale's mouth, compared to Jonah

Michael Packard
Michael Packard speaks with CBS News. |

In a story reminiscent of the Old Testament account of the prophet Jonah, a lobster diver has survived being trapped inside the mouth of a whale off the coast of Cape Cod. 

First reported by The Cape Cod Times, diver Michael Packard, 56, was diving to pluck lobsters from the ocean floor off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Friday morning in his second dive of the day when the dive took an unusual turn 10 feet from the ocean floor.  

“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove, and the next thing I knew, it was completely black,” Packard said Friday afternoon after he was released from the hospital.

“I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth."

The diver thought his death was imminent and started thinking about his sons. 

“I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard recounted.

“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.”

News of Packard's encounter has spurred many comparisons of his story to that of the biblical prophet Jonah as some headlines in the media have used phrases like "Real-Life Jonah," "Jonah and the whale in real life," "Cape Code lobster diver's Jonah moment" and "A Modern Day Jonah."  

Unlike Jonah, however, whom Scripture says was trapped inside the belly of a giant fish for three days, the diver estimates that he was inside the whale's mouth for approximately 30 to 40 seconds before the animal surfaced.

“I saw light, and he started throwing his head side to side, and the next thing I knew, I was outside [in the water],” the diver said.

A crewman with Packard reportedly told Packard’s sister that he saw the whale surface and initially thought the animal was a great white shark, which he frequently sees in the coastal waters. 

Packard, who lives in the Cape Cod peninsula town of Wellfleet, had no broken bones from the incident and described the injuries he sustained as “a lot of soft tissue damage.”

The diver plans to return to the waters as soon as he has recovered.

Marine experts are describing what happened to Packard as so rare as to be almost non-existent, given that humpback whales are not known to be aggressive creatures, especially toward human beings. 

"Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback," The Cape Cod Times quoted Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, as saying.

Robbins said that when humpbacks open their mouths to feed, it billows out like a parachute and block’s the whale’s forward vision. This is a reason why many of them get their mouths and jaws entangled in fishing gear, she said. 

"It is not something I have heard happening before," Robbins added, speaking of Packard's encounter with the mammal. 

"So many things would have had to happen to end up in the path of a feeding whale."

Robbins added that the esophagus on nontoothed whales is too small to swallow a human.

Echoing Robbins, marine biologist Iain Kerr told the Canada-based Global News Sunday that whales are not interested in humans. In 30 years, Kerr said he has only ever heard of an incident like what happened to Packard twice, adding that such encounters are likely an accident.

“The whale does not want a human dessert. [Packard] just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,’ Kerr said. 

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