US fisherman says swallowed by humpback whale, experts weigh in

Published on Jun 13, 2021 07:36 AM IST

The US lobster fisherman, Michael Packard, said he was in the humpback whale's closed mouth for about 30 to 40 seconds.

The US fisherman was was released from Cape Cod Hospital on Friday afternoon, just hours after the incident. (Facebook/Michael Packard)
The US fisherman was was released from Cape Cod Hospital on Friday afternoon, just hours after the incident. (Facebook/Michael Packard)
By | Written by Meenakshi Ray, New Delhi

A US lobster fisherman has lived to tell the tale after he claimed he was swallowed by a humpback whale and spat out in less than a minute. Michael Packard told local paper Cape Cod Times he was diving for lobster off the coast of the northeastern state of Massachusetts when the humpback whale trapped him in its mouth before coughing him back up.

"I was in his closed mouth for about 30 to 40 seconds before he rose to the surface and spit me out," the 56-year-old wrote on Facebook hours after. "A humpback whale tried to eat me. I am very bruised up but have no broken bones," he said.

Packard initially thought he was inside a great white shark, but he couldn’t feel any teeth and he hadn’t suffered any wounds. “I was completely inside; it was completely black. 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,” Packard told the Cape Cod Times from hospital.

Packard was released from Cape Cod Hospital on Friday afternoon, just hours after the incident.

'Hard to believe'

However, experts and fellow seamen were sceptical about the encounter described by Packard.

The New York Post reported citing a doctor at the Cape Cod Hospital, where the lobsterman was treated, saying that a person involved in such an encounter should expect more serious injuries. Hearing loss, because of the sudden change in water pressure from that depth, noted the physician, who did not treat Michael Packard after his brush with the leviathan.

“He reportedly ascended from a 45-foot depth in 20 to 40 seconds and didn’t have any evidence of barotrauma?” the Cape Cod Hospital emergency room doctor was quoted as saying by the New York Post.

Some fellow seamen were also sceptical. “People who are in the fishing industry, and people who know whales, are finding this hard to believe,” a Bay State lobsterman, who has fished the area for 44 years, told the Post.

“It’s a first-ever that this would happen. For a guy to be in the middle of that giant school of fish corralled by a whale doesn’t make sense,” the lobsterman, who was not named by the Post, added.

'Wrong place, wrong time'

But Jooke Robbins, the director of humpback whale studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said does not doubt Packard's account. "I didn't think it was a hoax because I knew the people involved... So I have every reason to believe that what they say is true," she told AFP.

Robbins said she had never heard of an "accident" of this type, but "it may be that he (Packard) was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." "When they (whales) fish... they rush forward, open their mouth and engulf the fish and the water very quickly," she said

She added that whales have large mouths but throats so narrow they wouldn't be able to swallow a human. The whale "may not be able to detect quickly enough that something is in the way," she said.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist and whale expert at the Center for Coastal Studies, told the Cape Cod Times that such human-whale encounters are rare. Mayo said humpback whales are not aggressive and that it was an accidental encounter while the whale was feeding on fish, likely sand lance.

Humpback whales can grow to 40 tonnes and are toothless filter feeders who corral large schools of fish or other small marine life in a tight circle before taking massive gulps.

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