This fish story isn’t hard to swallow. David Abel reports in the Boston Globe:
Fishing is a dangerous business, notorious for its tall tales, and few have endured the trials — and amassed the survival stories — that Michael Packard has.
As a boy, soon after getting his first fishing boat, he was swept out to sea and nearly drowned. He’s had close encounters with great white sharks while diving for lobster off Cape Cod, where he once found the body of a fellow diver. He even survived a plane crash in the jungles of Costa Rica, where he had a fishing business.
But his latest near-death experience is of biblical proportions: Last week, Packard ended up inside the mouth of a humpback whale.
If that sounds like a farfetched fish story, or a ludicrous movie script, Packard and those who know him insist it’s true.
“Of course this is an unbelievable story, but this absolutely happened,’’ said Josiah Mayo, Packard’s mate and driver, who along with another fisherman witnessed the hard-to-fathom drama off Herring Cove beach in Provincetown Friday morning. “We all saw the whitewater, the whale, and Michael shoot out of the water.’’
He added: “Michael has a reputation that’s unimpeachable.’’
Packard apparently isn’t the first person (aside from the biblical Jonah) to be consumed by a whale. In 2019, a marine conservationist claimed to be swept into a feeding Byrde’s whale while snorkeling off South Africa.
“These whales are lunge feeders,’’ said Iain Kerr, chief executive of Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit in Gloucester that studies whales. “They open their huge mouths and . . . engulf a dense swarm of prey. In those last few seconds, they are probably blind, literally and proverbially, to all that is going on and just focused on the food.’’
Before everything went dark, before he lost his regulator and his legs were squeezed by what felt like a vice, Packard was on his third dive of the morning to bag lobster a half-mile offshore.
The 56-year-old father was in his happy place in the same cold waters where he grew up, weightless and on the hunt. One of the last remaining commercial lobster divers in New England, Packard has fished these waters for decades, even though his mother offered to pay him to stop and he often wears special electrodes to protect against the swelling ranks of great white sharks off Cape Cod.
“I love getting into a different world that nobody else experiences,’’ he said. “I’m not just another human being going to work, and that makes me feel good, like I’m not one of the masses.’’
On that recent morning, Mayo watched Packard disappear into the dark depths in his black dry suit and tracked the bubbles from his scuba gear as Packard made his way to the bottom.
It was shaping up to be another good catch, at a time of favorable prices for lobster, when the bubbles became a kind of roiling cauldron.
“From where the bubbles were, there was a major eruption, a major slash of whitewater,’’ Mayo said. “There was a huge commotion just under the surface.’’
Packard was in about 45 feet of water off Race Point, where as a child he was caught in a strong current and nearly drowned. When he was about 10 feet from the bottom, Packard suddenly couldn’t see, hear, or breathe, as his regulator disappeared from his mouth.
“Whatever this is, whatever just happened, I need to get my regulator in, or I’m dead — definitely dead,’’ he thought.
In a frantic search, he found the respirator suspended in the water, blowing bubbles just a few inches from his face, and grabbed it.
Able to breathe again, his next thought was that he had been swallowed by a shark. But when he didn’t feel any teeth chomping him, he guessed that a whale had engulfed him. Pressed between what he believed was the roof of the whale’s mouth and its tongue, he began to struggle.
“I was pushing and kicking, but nothing happened,’’ he said. “After 10 or 15 seconds, I said to myself, ‘Calm down. Think about what’s going on here, think about what you can do.’ I thought about it, and I realized I’m never going to bust my way out of this.’’
As he was being squeezed against hard, bumpy surfaces and could feel the leviathan move, he thought about his wife and his two sons, ages 12 and 16, he said.
The next thing he knew, about 30 seconds after the ordeal had begun by his count, the creature breached the surface and ejected him into the water.
“It was thrashing its head around on the surface, and I got thrown,’’ Packard said. “I came out of the water, and he flipped his tail or fins, and boom, he was gone.’’
Mayo was sure it was a shark attack. Then he saw the flukes of what he identified as a small humpback whale. Adults can be the size of a school bus, up to 50 feet long and weighing more 60,000 pounds.
“It was a huge relief it wasn’t a shark,’’ said Mayo, who spent 10 years working on whale watch boats and whose father, Stormy Mayo, is a leading authority on marine mammals.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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