Already survivor of a crash, an American fisherman survives after being swallowed by a whale

A humpback whale in the Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park, Colombia, in 2018. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP History does not say whether Michael Packard is a pio

Already survivor of a crash, an American fisherman survives after being swallowed by a whale

A humpback whale in the Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park, Colombia, in 2018. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP History does not say whether Michael Packard is a pio

TheEditor
TheEditor
14 October 2021 Thursday 00:00
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Already survivor of a crash, an American fisherman survives after being swallowed by a whale
A humpback whale in the Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park, Colombia, in 2018. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

History does not say whether Michael Packard is a pious man. But it's a safe bet that this 56-year-old lobster fisherman has had the opportunity to hear the biblical story of Jonah... at least in the last few days. Because if he did not stay "three days and three nights" in the belly of a large fish, he lived a fairly similar story with a cetacean, told by the Cape Cod Times.

Settled in the village of Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the East Coast of the United States, on Friday, June 11, he begins his second dive off Herring Cove Beach, where, with Josiah Mayo, his teammate, they have dropped anchor of their ship, the Ja'n J.

The two men have already reeled in 50 kg of lobsters and Michael Packard has set off again in search of other crustaceans. Around them, a flotilla of fishermen teases the bar. In short, an ordinary day for this frogman, who has been practicing this activity for forty years. It swims at a depth of about 15 meters, observing the various links in the food chain: spearfish, sea bass... Until it feels a violent shock and everything turns black.

"It's over, I'm going to die"

For a moment, he believes his time has come, thinking he has been swallowed by one of the great white sharks that abound in these waters. After a few seconds, however, he finds with surprise that he has not been devoured, is not injured, does not suffer, and that there are no rows of teeth around him.

A short-lived relief: the diver understands that if he is not in the mouth of a shark, he is in the mouth of a whale; and the whale begins to tighten its muscles to try to engulf him. "I thought, 'OK, there's no way out, it's over, I'm going to die,'" the fisherman later told the Cape Cod Times. He then thinks of his family, his two boys, aged 12 and 15. Harnessed to his diving equipment, he begins to struggle. The whale, unable to swallow it, resurfaces – it usually feeds only on plankton and small fish. "I saw light, she was shaking her head in all directions and I found myself in the water," he continues.

On board the Ja'n J, Josiah Mayo has noticed that Michael Packard's air bubbles have disappeared and the sea is churning with violent whirlwinds. And suddenly a creature appears on the surface. "I immediately thought it was a shark encounter, something we had been preparing for for years," he told the New York Times.

He then sees the tail, then the head of a whale... which spits out his colleague. The mammal gone, he hoists Michael Packard aboard the boat with the help of another fisherman. The diver's first words were: "She tried to eat me! "In a post on Facebook, after being released from the hospital, the diver clarified that he remained in the mouth of the animal for 30 or 40 seconds.

Rare and accidental interactions

"This is a rare accident," said Jooke Robbins, a humpback whale specialist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, in a statement. According to the scientist, the statements of the diver suggest that he was swallowed by mistake by a young specimen – still measuring about ten meters –, which had already been spotted off the city. When they eat, the whales open their mouths wide and it inflates like a parachute, blocking the vision of the cetacean forward.

Humpback whales are common in this area, where they hunt schools of small fish that they swallow, using their baleen to filter the water before swallowing them. "But if a diver or a fishing net is directly in its path, the whale cannot detect or avoid it," says Robbins.

"When we enter the water, we enter their habitat," recalls researcher Jooke Robbins

Interactions between humpback whales and humans are rare and mostly accidental. "When we enter the water, we enter their habitat. This incident reminds swimmers, divers, kayakers and other boaters to remain vigilant and avoid whales whenever possible," continues the researcher.

No one has heard of such encounters, argues Charles Mayo to the New York Times – Josiah Mayo's father is also a researcher at the Center for Coastal Studies. It tells the story of a woman who was dragged to the bottom by a black pilot whale and the implausible story of James Bartley, a whaler, who in 1891 was found alive in the belly of a whale.

A lucky man

When the whale realized that the diver was inedible, it reacted as a human would if it accidentally swallowed a fly, adds Charles Mayo: "She stopped eating and spit out the food. "Especially since, if it is already extremely rare to have the opportunity to enter the mouth of a whale, it would be impossible to go further into its esophagus, the latter being too narrow to swallow a human. The only injuries caused by these cetaceans to humans are with their tails or when they jump out of the water and fall on them.

In his misfortune, Michael Packard was very lucky: he could have suffered from hearing loss, estimated a doctor at the Cape Cod hospital interviewed by the New York Post: "He climbed 15 meters in twenty to forty seconds and showed no signs of barotrauma [injury to the tissues of the ear caused by a change in pressure]. "

This is not the first time Michael Packard has been miraculous. In November 2001, he was in a small plane that crashed in Costa Rica, killing the pilot, co-pilot and a passenger; he and four other passengers were found by rescue workers after two nights in the jungle. A doctor who examined them at the time said that he would not have survived another night at the crash site.

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Updated: 14.10.2021 00:00
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