Humpback #1 has his phone out, scrolling through headlines, and groans, “The New York Times says, ‘Nearly Eats…’ I did not!”
“The Washington Post – geez! ‘Swallowed’? There’s no way!”
“And this one! You’d think at least a local newspaper would get it right. But – ‘Swallowed’ again? Gimme a break!”
Humpback #2 commiserates, adding, “At least the Washington Post said you spit him out.”
“Yeah,” says Humpback #1, “but the diver says I tried to eat him. How dumb is that guy? Humpbacks don’t eat humans. All those bones and fat and gristle…give me a big mouthful of krill any day.”
Humpback #2 says, “So what really happened?”
Humpback #1 shuts his phone and gives a big whale sigh through his blowhole. “There I was, just swimming along, having breakfast…”
While the whales talk, let’s look into what appears to be the not-fake-news part of this story:
On the morning of June 11, Michael Packard, 56 (pictured), was diving for lobster in about 40 feet of water off the coast of Provincetown, MA. His fishing partner, Josiah Mayo, was following him in their fishing vessel, tracking him through the bubbles that rose from Packard’s breathing gear to the surface of the water.
A humpback whale, possibly a 32- to 35-foot juvenile that had previously been seen swimming in the area, was nearby, diving for food.
When humpbacks feed, they open wide.
According to the New York Times story, Packard was swimming toward the bottom when…
“…he felt ‘this truck hit me.’
“His first thought was that a white shark had attacked him, but when he did not feel teeth piercing into him, he realized he was inside a whale.”
Let’s pause, because there’s a question here that’s begging to be asked.
According to all I’ve read, Packard is a very experienced diver. So how does a guy with all that time underwater not pick up on the fact that he’s in very close proximity to a very large, moving entity?
Back to Packard’s story:
“‘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.’
“Packard said he was in the mouth for at least 30 seconds, wondering whether he would run out of air or be swallowed. He said he struggled against the mouth of the whale and could feel its powerful muscles squeezing against him. Then, he saw light and felt the whale’s head shaking and his body being thrown into the water.”
The whale had spit out its catch:
The Cape Cod Times story said 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 – albeit with a limp – out of the hospital that afternoon.
Out of the hospital and onto the world stage.
Packard’s story got local, national and international media coverage; an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he sat on a throne designed as a whale’s mouth:
And numerous experts weighed in, including Peter Corkeron, chair of the Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program at the New England Aquarium, who noted that a humpback’s lower jaw is more than large enough to hold a person; indeed at 10 feet long their mouths could fit a small car:
But perhaps the most insightful expert was featured in this article:
The article’s author had contacted comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg, Ph.D., a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai whose research focuses on whales.
Dr. Reidenberg went into painstaking detail about the anatomy of the inside of a humpback whale’s mouth, and also confirmed Packard’s statement about it being “completely black” inside:
“When you’re inside the whale’s mouth it would just be dark because there’s no light in there.”
So, two weeks have passed since Packard’s up-close-and-personal whale encounter, and since there are no reports to the contrary, it appears that his story about spending 30 or so seconds in a humpback’s mouth is…
(I couldn’t resist that.)
Now let’s return to our whales, who have left the bar and are back out at sea…