How Not to be Swallowed by a Whale: This Really Did Happen


A commercial lobster diver says he escaped relatively unscathed after nearly being swallowed by a humpback whale. And this is not a Moby Dick story – it’s real.

Michael Packard, 56, said in interviews and on social media that he was diving off the coast of Provincetown, MA when a humpback whale suddenly scooped him up. “I was in his closed mouth for about 30 to 40 seconds before he rose to the surface and spit me out,” Packard wrote on Facebook. “I am very bruised up but have no broken bones.”

The Cape Cod Times reported that Packard was pulled out of the water by his crewman and rushed back to shore, where he was transported to Cape Cod Hospital. He walked out of the hospital that same day.

Packard told WBZ-TV that he was about 45-feet down in the water when he suddenly felt “this huge bump and everything went dark.” He initially feared he had been attacked by a shark.

“Then I felt around, and I realized there were no teeth and 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.’ ”

Packard was still wearing his scuba gear and breathing apparatus inside the whale’s mouth, which he said was completely dark. Fearing he wouldn’t make it out alive, he thought about his wife and sons.

After about half a minute, the whale rose to the water’s surface and began shaking its head, apparently wanting spit out – it turns out a diver.

“I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,” Packard recalled. “And I was free, and I just floated there … I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I got out of that.”

Crewman Josiah Mayo said he saw the whale burst to the surface and toss Packard back into the sea, according to the Cape Cod Times.

That’s the thing – as unbelievable as this story sounds, there were witnesses.

It’s never a good idea to get between a pair of mating whales

Whales are known for lunge feeding, in which they open their mouths, accelerate to “take in 10 SUVs worth of water and fish and then everything else.” For baleen whales, which humpbacks are, they have a giant strainer in their mouths which only very small fish can pass through. A diver would have nowhere to go. And if even the diver made it to the whale’s esophagus to be swallowed (which is nearly impossible), the esophagus is far too narrow.

Still, you don’t want to be swallowed by a whale, even if later you’d be able to sell the movie rights. And some whales, toothed whales, could conceivably swallow a human, like the sperm whale in Moby Dick. If you are concerned here are five tips to avoid be swallowed or even injured by accident by a whale.

  • Don’t jump into a tank with any captive whale if you’re not a whale trainer. Two of the four deaths by orcas are linked to bystanders falling into a tank of a captive animal. Having said that orcas or killer whales aren’t true whales but actually members of the dolphin family.
  • Don’t purposefully look like a seal, shark or giant squid.Orcas for example actively hunt seals, and several whale species and orcas may attack sharks. Sperm whales do hunt giant squid.
  • Never Get Between a Pair of Mating Whales. The frisky whales don’t so much care about privacy but might not be aware of your presence. Stuck between two mating whales is not a place where you want to be.
  • Stay clear of whales actively feeding. This goes for all whales and dolphins, and most animals – even our best friends. Not everyone feels safe reaching into the dog bowl while a dog has dinner, why would you disturb a feeding whale?
  • The most dangerous whales are dead ones – in the water attracting sharks or on land attracting biting insects.

Michael Packard appears on Jimmy Kimmel: