Commercial lobster diver Michael Packard ran into a one-of-a -kind fisheries conflict when he and a humpback whale worked the same waters off Cape Cod.

Packard, 56, of Wellfleet, Mass., was diving off his boat Ja’n J off Herring Cove Beach on the morning of June 11, picking lobsters off the bottom, when the humpback came through intent on feeding itself – and accidently scarfed up the human.

“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard told the Cape Cod Times, after he got out of the Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., later that day. 

“I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.” “I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard told the newspaper. “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.”

With his scuba gear, Packard struggled and the whale reacted to the discomfort, finally surfacing to shake its head and spew him out after 30 to 40 seconds, said Packard. His fishing partner Josiah Mayo picked him up and they got back to Provincetown where an ambulance took him to the hospital.

Experts at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown said the incident was likely an accident on the part of a juvenile humpback that could have been feeding on sand lance near the bottom. The esophagus of humpback whales is too small to completely swallow a human but their cheeks balloon out in feeding to gather in small fish.

Both Packard and Mayo had feared it was a great white shark attack; those toothy predators are regular summer visitors around Cape Cod, hunting among New England’s flourishing seal population.

Packard had no broken bones after being gummed by the whale, but soft tissue damage that has to heal before he can return to work.

“I am very bruised up but have no broken bones,” Packard wrote on the Provincetown Community Space Facebook page. “I want to thank the Provincetown rescue squad for their caring and help.”

Humpback whale. NOAA photo.

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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