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Lobster diver injured after getting caught in humpback whale's mouth off US east coast

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By AP
A team from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., use a knife at the end of a pole to free a humpback whale from fishing gear near Boston harbor, June 9, 2021
A team from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., use a knife at the end of a pole to free a humpback whale from fishing gear near Boston harbor, June 9, 2021   -   Copyright  Scott Landry/Center for Coastal Studies, NOAA permit #18786-05, via AP
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A commercial lobster diver who got caught in the mouth of a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod on Friday morning said he thought he was going to die.

Michael Packard, 56, of Wellfleet, told WBZ-TV after he was released from Cape Cod Hospital that he was about 45 feet (14 meters) deep in the waters off Provincetown when “all of a sudden I felt this huge bump, and everything went dark."

He thought he had been attacked by a shark, common in area waters, but then realized he could not feel any teeth and he wasn't in any pain.

“Then I realized, oh my God, I'm in a whale's mouth ... and he's trying to swallow me," he said. “And I thought to myself OK, this is it — I'm finally — I'm gonna die." His thoughts went to his wife and children.

He estimates he was in the whale's mouth for about 30 seconds, but continued to breathe because he still had his breathing apparatus in.

Then the whale surfaced, shook its head, and spit him out. He was rescued by his crewmate in the surface boat.

His sister, Cynthia Packard, originally told the Cape Cod Times that her brother broke a leg, but he said later that his legs are just bruised.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist and whale expert at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, told the newspaper that such human-whale encounters are rare.

Humpbacks are not aggressive and Mayo thinks it was an accidental encounter while the whale was feeding on fish, likely sand lance.

Whale freed from fishing gear

Also off Provincetown, a three-day effort to free a humpback whale from entanglement in fishing gear ended in success this week, marine mammal experts said.

The whale, identified as a mature female named Valley, was first spotted Monday by a whale watch boat on Stellwagen Bank northeast of Provincetown, according to a statement from the Center for Coastal Studies.

The center's entanglement response team found that the whale had a heavy line lodged in its mouth, but because sea conditions were poor, it could not be freed.

The whale moved about 25 miles north to waters outside Boston Harbor, where it become entangled in more gear anchored to the sea floor with just enough slack to swim in small circles.

A lobster boat reported its position and the rescuers deployed again.

The crew on Wednesday used a hook-shaped knife at the end of a 30-foot pole to cut the rope anchoring the whale to the sea floor, then tied buoys to the rope in its mouth, and the remaining entanglement was pulled free.

Valley swam away.

It appears that Valley had been entangled for weeks or months, the center said, adding that the mammal's prognosis is good.