The Real Life Pinocchio; The Man Who Was Swallowed By A Whale (And Survived)
Most have heard the story of Pinocchio, the wooden boy who was swallowed whole by a whale, along with Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo. Fortunately for fiction fans everywhere, the giant sperm whale spit them back out, but I imagine most non-fiction people would not live to tell that tale.
A man named Michael Packard is one of the few people probably in the history of earth to not only experience being slurped up by a whale, but also making it back out and relaying the story back to us land folk. Take a deep breath while we do a deep dive into the ocean where our lobster diver found himself on the day he was fully swallowed by a whale.
A Veteran Occupant of the Ocean
Michael Packard considered himself a veteran lobster diver on the Friday morning he stepped out at Race Point Beach in Provincetown. Already, it was his second dive of the day .
The water was a bit balmy (around 60 degrees) and there was nice visibility. It’s a shame to let a visible day pass in the water, and Michael decided to make the most of it. Lobster divers are known to be a tough breed. Little did he know, his life was never going to be the same.
The Cycle of Life
Michael entered the ocean in his vessel, the “Ja’n J” off of the Herring Cove Beach. There was a large fleet of boats already out on the water catching striped bass who would soon bear witness to one of the craziest sights of their lives.
Licensed commercial divers’ task is to find lobsters to pluck them off the sandy sea bottom, which is what Michael began to do. The 56 year old recalled seeing schools of sand lances and stripers swimming by. The cycle of life was in full swing, and Michael was unknowingly a part of it.
Suddenly It Was “Completely Black”
From about 10 feet above the bottom of the sea, Michael suddenly felt what he described as a “huge shove” and then after everything went “completely black.” Disorientation and confusion followed.
According to Michael “I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.” At the time though, Michael was not aware what had happened, or what creature he was inside of. He had been sucked into a vacuum.
Was That a Great White Shark?
At first, Michael thought that he may have been swallowed by a great white shark. They were common to see off the Provincetown coast, and Michael saw them quite often. But he realized he had not felt any teeth when he entered, he felt no obvious injuries, and it would have had to be a huge great white.
He quickly realized that he had been swallowed whole by a whale. A stunning realization that he had little time to process. He was enveloped in a situation of biblical proportions and had little time to act, think, or process.
Burial At Sea
Michael said, “I was completely inside; it was completely black.” Not quite the candlelit and spacious innards that Pinnochio had found him and his crew inside the giant sperm whale.
“I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I am getting out of here. I’m done. I’m dead.” Michael said that while he lay helpless inside the humpback whale’s stomach, all he could think of was his 12 year old and 15 year old sons. Would he ever see them again?
Please Don’t Feed the Whales
Dressed head to toe in scuba gear, Michael began to wiggle his body, struggling to orient himself in the belly of the gentle beast who had accidentally swallowed him whole. The whale, most likely completely aware at this point that it had swallowed something unsavory, did not enjoy the feeling of Michael moving around in his stomach.
The whale began to shake its head up and down in discomfort, pushing Michael out of its stomach in discomfort. According to Michael, he estimated that he was in there for somewhere between 30-40 seconds before the whale finally pushed him out.
Light At The End of The Tunnel
The whale began to expel Michael, throwing its head side to side in angst. “I saw light…and next thing I knew I was out of the water,” Michael said.
Michael would live to see another day. Luckily, with the help of his scuba gear his oxygen had not been compromised and he was spit out completely intact from the belly of the humpback whale.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”