In the Bible, God’s unwilling messenger Jonah is cast into the sea and swallowed up by the Leviathan, where he spends three days and three nights rethinking the error of his ways before being tossed on Nineveh’s shore to complete his appointed mission.
On Friday, June 11th, 56-year-old Wellfleet, Massachusett’s resident Michael Packard wasn’t fleeing the wrath of the Lord when he dove into the waters of Provincetown’s Herring Cove Beach. He was diving for lobster.
But in a straight out of Jaws scenario, like Jonah before him, in one fell swoop, Packard found himself seemingly in ‘the belly of the beast’—a humpback whale’s mouth.
“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard told the Cape Cod Times. “I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.”
Packard’s first terrifying thought as he struggled in the darkess was that he’d been scarfed down by great white shark. While it didn’t take him long to realize the gullet in which he was uncomfortably lodged belonged to a whale rather than a toothy shark, his prospects for survival still didn’t look good.
As panicked as Packard was, the whale was more than a little distressed as well. A humpback’s usual diet consists of fish, krill, and other small marine animals. Cumbersome humans are definitely not on their preferred menu.
According to marine biologists, the most likely explanation for the feeding faux pas was the medium-sized humpback, dining on a school of sand lances on the ocean floor whilst moving with great momentum, unintentionally vacuumed up the stunned commercial diver along with his morning meal.
“They can basically open their mouth through 90° and kind of unlock their jaw and have it drop down,” New England Aquarium’s lead whale researcher Peter Corkeron said in an interview NBC News-10 Boston.
“The water off the Cape is pretty murky,” Corkeron added, “and when whales are doing these feeds, they’re moving really fast… This [was] just an accident. I imagine the whale had this, ‘Oh my goodness!’ moment and probably got rid of him as quickly as it could.”
Thrashing its head, the whale made for the surface in a major hurry, where it speedily spat the gobsmacked Packard back into the briny water. The entire episode took under a minute, but it was enough for Packard to see his life flash before his eyes.
“I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard told Cape Cod News. “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.”
Although he suffered a dislocated knee and a great deal of soft tissue damage, for a lobsterman who’d been recently ingested and disgorged by a 25-ton marine mammal, Packard survived the encounter remarkably intact—and thankful to be alive.
While it’s a story that’s likely to take on biblical proportions in the retelling, at least for everyone concerned—man and Leviathan—this is one whale of a tale that’s got a happy ending.