Michael Packard, 56, says he was “very bruised up” after the incident, though he’s quite happy to be the one that got away.
Packard was diving near Provincetown, Mass., on Friday morning when the whale snuck up on him in about 13.7 metres (45 feet) of water.
“I just felt this truck hit me and everything went dark,” he told NBC 10 in Boston.
He initially thought he’d been devoured by a great white shark, but he soon realized that he was still in one piece and that he was not surrounded by teeth.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m in the mouth of a whale,'” he recalled. “‘This is how you’re gonna die.'”
It’s unclear if he actually spoke those words while inside the whale’s watery mouth, but he did drop the regulator on his oxygen tank. Packard says he scrambled around in the darkness and recovered the regulator by chance. He popped the regulator back into his own mouth and used the oxygen tank to avoid drowning inside the belly of the behemoth.
Packard’s crewmate, Josiah Mayo, was sitting in a boat on the surface when he noticed the commotion down below.
“It was just a huge splash and kind of thrashing around,” he said.
Packard says he didn’t think he’d be able to fight his way out of the whale, and he was just beginning to think about death when he saw light.
After 30 to 40 seconds, the whale was spitting him out.
“I was just laying on the surface floating and saw his tail and he went back down, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I got out of that, I survived,'” he said. “I couldn’t believe I got out of that.”
Mayo says he saw Packard suddenly “pop up” out of the churning water.
“The whale disappeared,” he added.
Mayo helped Packard climb back into the boat, then they contacted a local rescue crew.
Harbourmaster Don German said he initially did not believe the call when he heard it.
“Honestly, we all kind of thought, ‘OK, this is far-fetched,’ but then, when we got word from the injured gentleman, we realized it was an actual incident,” he said.
Packard was taken to hospital and treated for a dislocated knee and bruises. He later thanked the rescue crews on Facebook.
The father of two fielded a flood of questions on Reddit after his ordeal, thanks to a little help from one of his sons. He said he rarely encounters whales on the job, and but when he does they typically keep their distance.
He added that the whale’s mouth was filled with water, so he couldn’t say whether the tongue was “smooth like a dog’s or scratchy like a cat’s.”
He also insisted that it was not a full swallow, as he likely never would have fit down the whale’s throat and into its belly. Humpback whales can grow up to 18 metres long and can weigh up to 36 metric tonnes. That’s much larger than a human, but they simply are not equipped to eat a person and have no interest in doing so, according to marine biologist Ian Kerr.
“The whale does not want a human dessert,” Kerr said. “He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Humpbacks feed by cruising through the water with their mouths slightly open to suck up small fish and krill. That may have been how Packard ended up in the mammal’s mouth in the first place.
Packard says this isn’t the first time he’s had a near-death experience. He also survived a plane crash in Costa Rica that killed several others 10 years ago.
“In Costa Rica, they call me Milagro Mike,” he told NBC 10. That nickname translates to “Miracle Mike.”
Now he says he has another nickname — one inspired by his Biblical brush with a whale.
“Many people are calling me Jonah,” he said on Reddit.
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