What Happens When You Become A Real Life Pinocchio? This Man Found Out For Himself

By: Calla Conway | Published: Nov 08, 2023

The story of Pinocchio is one that most of us know. Its characters include Geppetto, Figaro, Cleo, and, of course, Pinocchio, the wooden boy who gets swallowed by a whale. Luckily, the massive sperm whale spits them all out, although actual people wouldn’t have survived to reiterate their incredible story.

Out of all the people in the history of our world, Michael Packard is most likely one of the few remaining people to have a Pinocchio experience. Not only that but also making it out and sharing his crazy tale with us mere mortals here on land. We’re about to dive deep into the story of a lobster diver who one day was totally swallowed whole by a sperm whale.

The Trusty Ocean Vet Went Out For His Second Dive That Day

It was already the second dive of the day for the veteran lobster diver, Michael Packard. On that very Friday morning at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Michael was ready to conquer the ocean.


Source: Stephen Frink/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

At about a balmy 60 degrees, the water posed excellent visibility, which should never go unattended. Michael decided to take advantage of it, since, after all, lobster divers are of the strong ilk. He could never have predicted that after that fateful day, his life wouldn’t be the same again.


Michael Was Enveloped In The Cycle Of Ocean Life

On that same Friday, there was an extensive fleet of boats that were in the water at Herring Cove Beach catching striped bass. They, along with Michael who was in his vessel named the “Ja’n J,” would in due time experience something that was unlikely anything they had ever seen before.


Source: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

Michael’s task as a licensed commercial diver was to search for lobsters and scoop them from the sea’s sandy floor. He was 56 at the time and recounted the sight of the schools of sand lances and stripers rushing by him. Surely, Michael was right in the middle of the essential circle of oceanic life.

All Of A Sudden Everything Was “Completely Black”

Michael was around 10 feet above the seafloor when he felt a “huge shove” from out of nowhere. Suddenly, he felt disoriented and confused, and his surroundings as he knew them faded from his sight. Everything went “completely black.”


Source: Alexis Rosenfeld/ Getty Images

Michael still had no idea what had happened to him. The only thing, according to Michael was that he could feel that he was moving, and the “whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.” It was as if he had been sucked inside a vacuum, and couldn’t even comprehend what creature’s mouth he was inside of, or what even happened at all.

Michael Thought He Was Inside Of A Great White Shark

Since great white sharks were common to see off the coast of Provincetown, Michael thought he could have been swallowed whole by one. He came to the realization that because he didn’t feel teeth when he entered its mouth, nor felt any noticeable injuries, so he knew it had to be a great white shark.


Source: Dave J Hogan/ Getty Images

However, Michael was wrong. It didn’t take him long (not that he even had much time) to realize that a whale had fully consumed him. This insane realization was beyond anything Michael could have imagined.

His Situation Seemed Hopeless

The unbelievable situation Michael found himself in was far from what Pinocchio and his crew experienced. Obviously, the inside of a whale wasn’t quite as spacious as in the story and there was no candlelight. Michael recalled, “I was completely inside; it was completely black.”

Sources: Alexis Rosenfeld/ Getty Images

Michael grew hopeless with his chances of survival. While he lay inside the giant sperm whale, this was running in his mind: “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I am getting out of here. I’m done. I’m dead.’” He could only think of his sons (one was 12, and the other 15) who may never see him again.


A Word To The Wise: Don't Feed Whales

Keep in mind that Michael was fully dressed in scuba gear from head to toe. He tried moving his body but even his wiggles couldn’t do much in the belly of this harmless creature. It’s probable that the whale didn’t like having the feeling of Michael writhing around in his pitch-black stomach. The whale likely knew he had swallowed something he shouldn’t have.

Source: Alexis Rosenfeld/ Getty Images

Michael began to feel movement as the whale started shaking its head, clearly in grave discomfort. In Michael’s recollection of that moment, he said that he was approximately in its mouth for about 30-4o seconds until he was finally pushed out.


Finally! There Was Light At The End Of The Very Long Tunnel

As Michael was in the throws of the whale’s fit, its head going up and down violently, he couldn’t believe what happened next. He recalled, “I saw light…and next thing I knew I was out of the water.”

Source: Alexis Rosenfeld/ Getty Images

Even though the prospect of surviving was uncertain before, Michael lived to tell the tale. There was light at the end of the humpback whale’s mouth after all. His scuba gear saved his life, because, without it, he would have lost oxygen. Also, he came out in one piece after being ejected from its mouth.


Chaos On The Surface Of The Sea

Michael’s sister was present when her brother was swallowed and spit out by a whale, and actually saw the moment that her brother re-entered the world from the humpback’s stomach.

Source: Reddit

“There was all this action at the top of the water,” Cynthia Packard had disclosed. Then, the whale flung Michael back into the sea. “Thank God it wasn’t a white shark,” Cynthia said, after she saw a large creature burst through the surface of the sea.


How Do Humpback Whales Eat?

Humpback whales are not aggressive animals, nor are they particularly interested in humans. Based on what Michael had said, experts believe that the humpback whale that swallowed him was most likely a juvenile feeding on sand lance.

Source: OceanInfo

To eat, the animal opens its mouth so that it billows out like a parachute opening at a jump. This makes it so the creature can’t see in its forward vision, which in Michael’s case, meant he was swallowed whole. In some whale’s cases, it is why they get caught in fishing gear.


Extremely Rare Incident

Incidents with divers or swimmers are incredibly rare, nearly non-existent. Humpback whales have no teeth and have an esophagus actually too small to swallow a human whole. They are able to wrap their mouths around a human enough to spit it out, but that’s it.

Source: Wikipedia

So, even if the whale had wanted to eat Michael, it physically wasn’t in the cards for it. The young whale would have had a very hard time trying. The whale was quite alarmed on its own end about what happened.


A Hospital Visit For The Swallowed Man

Michael was taken to the hospital after he appeared back at the water’s surface, alive, well, but definitely injured. When he was admitted it was found that he had a lot of soft tissue damage, but somehow escaped with no broken bones.

Source: News.sky.com

After his release from the Cape Cod Hospital, he said that as soon as he was healed he planned to get himself back into the water and back diving.


It Wasn’t His First Brush With Death

A decade before the humpback whale incident (imagine having that story in your back pocket at parties) Michael survived another completely insane incident.

Source: Trip Advisor

Michael had gone to Costa Rica, where he boarded a small plane with a few other passengers, unwise to the horrible events that would soon unfold.


A Horrible Crash Into The Jungle

The small plane went down in the Costa Rican jungle, killing the pilot of the aircraft and one other passenger. Michael had sustained multiple serious injuries on his abdomen and upper body, but otherwise was okay.

When rescuers found the remaining five other passengers (including Michael) they had already been in the jungle for two nights and would not have survived another.


The Last Lobster Diver

Some in Provincetown think that Michael Packard is the last lobster diver in Provincetown, and Michael does not disagree with them, having been in the industry for a while.

Source: HarvardMagazine.com

“It’s a strenuous job” according to charter boat fisherman David “Spider” Gibson. “He’s the best lobster diver I’ve ever seen. He knows what he’s doing.”