Hard to Swallow

A big H/T to Neo at Nebraska Energy Observer for the inspiration for today’s post:  in his latest edition of Sunday Funnies (“Sunday Funnies:  Juneteenth & Other Things“), Neo includes a tabloid-style headline that reads, “I Was Nearly Krilled!: Lobster diver says he was swallowed by humpback whale.”  The pun “krilled’ is circled in orange.

I looked it up, and it’s a real story:  Michael Packard, a fifty-six-year old lobster diver from Massachusetts, was briefly trapped in the mouth of a massive humpback whale.  According to Packard, he was in the mouth of the great beast for about thirty seconds, before the creature surfaced, shook its head back and forth, and spit Packard into the air.

Here is the relevant excerpt of Packard’s account, as quoted at NPR.org:

Packard told WBZ-TV that he was about 45 feet down in the water when he suddenly felt “this huge bump and everything went dark.” He initially feared he had been attacked by a shark.

“Then I felt around, and I realized there was no teeth and I had felt, really, no great pain,” he said. “And then I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth. I’m in a whale’s mouth, and he’s trying to swallow me.’ “

Packard was still wearing his scuba gear and breathing apparatus inside the whale’s mouth, which he said was completely dark. Fearing he wouldn’t make it out alive, he thought about his wife and sons.

After about half a minute, the whale rose to the water’s surface and began shaking its head from side to side.

“I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,” Packard recalled. “And I was free, and I just floated there … I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I got out of that.”

The story sounds incredible—and, according to whale experts, the odds of it happening are extremely rare—but it is within the realm of possibility.  Humpback whales lack teeth, and instead filter feed through baleen, long, hair-like “teeth” that filter out sea water and trap small prey, like shrimp and krill, inside.  Humpback whales often feed using lunge feeding, during which the whales “open their mouths, accelerate and ‘take in 10 SUVs worth of water and fish and then everything else,'” according to Iain Kerr, quoted in the same NPR piece.

Apparently, Packard just happened to be swimming in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the great whale accidentally sucked him up with tiny sea critters.

It’s a remarkable story, and quite fortunate that Packard survived.  While whale experts think it’s unlikely that Packard would be swallowed due to the humpback whale’s small esophagus, the magnitude of forces at play made injury and even death very likely.  Fortunately, the whale’s aversion to having a large, foreign object in its mouth—Mr. Packard—meant the whale was ready to spit Packard out as quickly as possible.

It would be akin to that scene in Dumb and Dumber after Harry and Lloyd rode up the mountain into Aspen, and when they discuss getting dinner, Jim Carrey’s character responds, “I swallowed a big June bug while we were driving, I’m not really hungry,” except most of us would spit out the June bug.  Chances are a June bug or fly in our mouths would die, but there’s a chance it would survive, as we spat in disgust.

Of course, this incident calls to mind the ordeal of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who fled for Spain when God commanded him to preach against the wickedness of the people of Nineveh.  What’s so interesting about the Book of Jonah is not just the famous tale of Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights; it’s that Jonah was angry that God went easy on the repentant Ninevites!  After the King of Nineveh donned sackcloth and ashes, proclaiming national fasting and thanksgiving, God accepted their repentance and stayed His Hand of Judgment.

But Jonah was angry, and went outside of town to pout.  The final chapter of of Jonah is one of the weirdest in the Bible, it’s an important tale:  while Jonah fumed at God, God caused a pleasing plant to grow over Jonah, which provided Jonah with shade and comfort.  But then, God sent a “worm” to eat the plant, causing it to wither, exposing Jonah to a hot, scorching wind.

When Jonah protested angrily to God—saying he was “angry enough to die!”—God told it to him straight (Jonah 4:10-11):

…You cared about the plant, which you neither tended nor made grow. It sprang up in a night and perished in a night. 11So should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well?

The point:  Jonah cared about the plant because it was convenient for him, and grew angry that God took it away—but God had just spared a disobedient Jonah’s life because Jonah repented in the belly of the beast.  Now, some 120,000 souls (and their cattle, as God points out), who were totally lost in their wickedness, offered up the same prayers of thanksgiving and repentance as the rebellious Jonah; they, too, enjoyed God’s Grace.  But Jonah is so intent on seeing them punished anyway, he’s forgotten about his own rebelliousness!

In other words, Jonah’s being quite self-righteous, and God is showing him how God’s Mercy can be given—and can be taken away.

It’s an important reminder to be grateful for the life we have, and for the time God has given us.  It’s also a powerful reminder to remain obedient to God, and to give thanks for His Mercy and Grace.

I’m sure Michael Packard is doing just that today.

2 thoughts on “Hard to Swallow

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