Whale of a tale: US fisherman says he was swallowed by humpback

Lobster fisherman says he was scooped up while diving off the coast of Massachusetts

It sounds like a real-life take on Pinocchio – a US lobster fisherman says he was scooped into the mouth of a humpback whale on Friday and yet lived to tell the story.

"I was in his closed mouth for about 30 to 40 seconds before he rose to the surface and spit me out," Michael Packard wrote on Facebook hours after the encounter.

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All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black<br/> Michael Packard, lobster diver

"A humpback whale tried to eat me," he added.

"I am very bruised up but have no broken bones."

Mr Packard's ordeal began, he told local paper Cape Cod Times, when he was diving for lobster off the coast of the north-eastern state of Massachusetts.

"All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black," he said after being released from the hospital.

He was about 10 metres down and his first thought was that he had been attacked by a shark, but the lack of teeth and obvious wounds made him reconsider.

Mr Packard said he began to struggle – but unlike in the classic children's tale Pinocchio there was no need to build a fire to secure his escape.

"I saw light, and he started throwing his head side-to-side and the next thing I knew I was outside," he told the paper.

The newspaper quoted Mr Packard's fishing mate Josiah Mayo as saying he "saw the explosion of water as the whale surfaced and Packard was ejected".

Jooke Robbins, director of humpback whale studies at the Centre for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said she had no reason to doubt the account.

"I didn't think it was a hoax because I knew the people involved. So I have every reason to believe that what they say is true," she told AFP.

Ms Robbins said she had never heard of an incident of this type, but "it may be that he [Mr Packard] was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"When they fish ... they rush forward, open their mouth and engulf the fish and the water very quickly," she said.

The whales have large mouths, but throats too narrow to swallow a human, she said.

Humpback whales range from 13 to 16 metres in length and can weigh as much as 30 tonnes.

The whale, which according to Mr Mayo's description was on the young side, "may not be able to detect quickly enough that something is in the way".

For Ms Robbins, the moral of the tale is clear: "It is important for people to be quite aware ... And when they see a whale, keep a good distance. It's really important to give whales their space."

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