Written by: Lori, Naturalist
This is a question that often arises on our tours – particularly when we’re viewing Humpback whales. When guests see Humpback whales in the wild they are often blown away by their incredible size and grace in the water. If you’re really lucky when you come out on our tours, you may even get to witness lunge feeding! Lunge feeding is a method that humpback whales use to consume large amounts of prey at one time. They will propel themselves vertically or horizontally with their mouths open, catching both sea water and prey. Humpback Whales are a baleen whale, meaning that rather than having teeth in their mouths, they have plates of baleen. Baleen is made of keratin, and is a bristle-like substance that acts as a sieve to retain prey and filter out water.
When you see a humpback whale open its mouth wide – it’s certainly easy to imagine yourself swimming along and ending up inside. After all, a human could easily fit inside one of their massive mouths.
One man even found out first hand. In 2021, a story went viral about a man who was “swallowed” by a Humpback Whale. That man was Michael Packard. Michael Packard was a veteran lobster diver, and when he went out on his second dive of the day, he felt something shove him hard and the next thing he knew his world went completely black. He knew that he had ended up in a whale’s mouth, and he struggled until he was released approximately 30-40 seconds later.
It’s likely that Packard was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Humpback whales are not aggressive to humans, and Packard likely ended up in the path of the Humpback while it was feeding.
Luckily for Packard, it is not physically possible for a humpback whale to swallow a human! While a human can certainly fit inside their large mouths, the throat of a humpback whale is roughly the size of a human fist – and can only stretch about 15 inches in diameter. Humpback whales prey on krill, plankton, herring, and other small fish – human beings are not a part of this varied diet.
While Packard did sustain some soft tissue damage from his encounter with the humpback whale, he had no broken bones, and when interviewed said he was eager to get back in the water and continue diving.
Not only that, but he mentioned that he wanted to apologize to the humpback whale for getting in its way!
Now there’s a polite diver.
You can read more about this story at the Cape Cod Times.