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Josiah Mayo surveyed the ocean’s surface on Friday, watching the bubbles that emerged from his fishing partner’s underwater breathing gear. It was Michael Packard’s second plunge into the ocean off the coast of Cape Cod that morning and he had already caught about 100 pounds of lobster. But the bubbles suddenly stopped. Then, an explosion of white water erupted from the sea. Mayo wasn’t sure what he was witnessing. A burly fish thrashed before him and for a split second he thought it was a great white shark. Then Mayo saw its flukes cut through the water and observed it violently shake its head. “This was a humpback whale,” Mayo, 43, told himself, as he recounted in an interview with The Washington Post. “It was a relief because it wasn’t a shark, which meant Michael would be all done at that point.” Moments later there was another mighty boil of white water and Packard soared out of the ocean and flopped back down. Mayo sped the boat up next to Packard, who was floating in a puffed-out drysuit thanks to the whale’s speedy ascent to the surface. “I was inside it. I was inside its mouth,” Packard, 56, told Mayo. “It tried to eat me.”

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