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.
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