PROVINCETOWN — First of all, Mike Packard was not “gulped down” by a humpback whale, as the Boston Herald reported, nor was he “swallowed” by the whale, as the Cape Cod Times reported. A whale’s gullet is approximately the size of a softball, so there is no way it could ever swallow a man.
Mike, 56, is the local fisherman who is now famous for spending about 30 seconds in a whale’s mouth on Friday morning, June 11.
He has been diving for lobsters for decades, and he does it better than most. As he does on many days, he was diving off Herring Cove. He flipped backwards into the water from his boat, the J a’n J, and proceeded to descend. The water isn’t very deep where he likes to dive, along the edge between Race Point and Wood End. It is 20 to 50 feet there. This has always been a great area for lobsters.
Mike’s mate, Josiah Mayo, watched him dive to about 30 feet when he noticed some turbulence in the water. He saw a big dark shadow and thought Mike might be in trouble with a great white shark. Then the shadow broke the surface and Josiah immediately saw it was a young humpback whale. The whale, for reasons we will never know, had taken Mike into its large mouth and up to the surface, where it spit him out. Josiah got Mike into the boat, radioed the rescue squad, and sped back to MacMillan Pier, where Mike was taken to Cape Cod Hospital.
Before we get all crazy with theories of whales gone bad, keep in mind that they eat small sand eels, herring, mackerel, and pogies. They are not looking for anything as large as a human being. In order to catch their preferred foods, whales have to lunge very fast and hard into a school of fish to get the most bang for the buck. And once a 10-to-30-ton animal decides to lunge, there is no stopping it. This whale could have been feeding when Mike accidentally got in the way.
Or, being young, this humpback could have been doing what young animals do, including some goofy, irrational behavior. We had a fin whale accidentally hit Vaughn Cabral’s boat last year and semi-swamp him.
These whales are not aggressive, no matter what you might have read in Moby-Dick. I have run well over 1,000 whale watch trips out of Provincetown and have never seen dangerously aggressive behavior from a humpback or finback whale around boats. They are here to feed and fatten up before they migrate south.
Whales have no issue with humans, but mistakes do happen, and this was clearly one of them, which luckily did not cost a good man his life. Humpback whales have no teeth, so besides not being swallowed, Mike was not chewed. He was treated at the hospital for minor injuries and released the same day. And he will be able to tell a story for the rest of his life that will never be topped.