Home Christian News Diver’s Whale Tale Draws Comparisons to the Biblical Account of Jonah

Diver’s Whale Tale Draws Comparisons to the Biblical Account of Jonah

Michael Packard

When Michael Packard headed to work on Friday, he didn’t expect to make international headlines. Of course, the commercial lobster diver also didn’t expect to end up inside a humpback whale’s mouth.

That’s what Packard says happened off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, when he was about 10 feet from the ocean floor. “All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove, and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” says Packard, 56. “I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.” The ordeal, which he estimates lasted 30 to 40 seconds, left the diver with bruises and minor injuries but no broken bones.

Michael Packard: Whale ‘Tried to Eat Me’

The first thing that came to mind was a shark attack, but Packard didn’t feel teeth. Josiah Mayo, his fishing partner, also feared the worst when he saw a huge creature emerge and thrash its head. “It was a relief because it wasn’t a shark, which meant Michael would be all done at that point,” he says. “It seemed like it fully enveloped him immediately. That’s kind of remarkable, and so we can only imagine the whale was probably feeding.”

Packard says he thought about his family and assumed he would die. “I was inside its mouth,” he told Mayo. “It tried to eat me.” The diver describes eventually seeing light, feeling the whale shake its head from side to side, then ending up in the water.

After Packard landed on the surface, Mayo summoned help. Hospital staffers were amazed by the diver’s story and condition, especially because rapid surfacing can cause embolisms.

Incident Is Extremely Rare But Plausible

Although some experts say Michael Packard’s tale sounds fishy, others admit it might have happened, though it’s almost unheard of. Humpback whales, known as gentle giants, aren’t aggressive toward humans, so it was most likely a fluke.

“So many things would have had to happen to end up in the path of a feeding whale,” says marine biologist Jooke Robbins. “Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback.”

Whales without teeth have an esophagus that’s too small to swallow a person, but they billow their mouths out like parachutes during a process called lunge feeding. Iain Kerr of Ocean Alliance says whales swoop swiftly and “take in 10 SUVs worth of water and fish and then everything else,” yet “it’s a one-in-a-million shot that [Packard] just got rolled into the mouth.”

With such a large creature, Kerr says, this situation “could have gone 20 different ways that could have killed [Packard],” including a broken neck. “To be clear, the whale did not want him in its mouth,” he adds, just as a biker might accidentally ingest a fly while riding.

Because Packard has been diving for decades, locals tend to believe his account. He insists he’ll be back in the water after he recovers. “I think we’ll probably be diving [again] in a week,” says Mayo, “which is pretty remarkable.”

Packard hasn’t mentioned faith or how the ordeal may have impacted him spiritually, but some friends now call him Jonah. This isn’t Packard’s first near-death experience. When he worked as an abalone diver on the West Coast, some of his friends were killed by sharks. He also survived a plane crash in Costa Rica that claimed several lives.

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.