Survival of the Luckiest


OPINION — People get stuck with nicknames in odd ways. Big guys are often called ‘Tiny’ or ‘Slim.’ Bald guys are sometimes called ‘Harry.’ More often, nicknames actually fit, like Dish Boggett, the cowboy character in Lonesome Dove. He got the name Dish because, while on a cattle drive, he came into camp really thirsty, and drank a tubful of dishwater.

Noah Sweat is another example. Noah was a state representative in Mississippi during the mid-twentieth century. You may remember him for his famous ‘If, by whiskey’ speech before the state legislature in 1952. Noah’s nickname was ‘Soggy’ which, considering the humidity in Mississippi during the summer, was probably pretty apt.

Michael Packard will likely henceforth be known as ‘Jonah,’ after what happened to him recently. Michael is a lobster diver in Massachusetts. I had no idea people actually did that, but there you go.

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

Michael was diving for lobsters with a friend off the coast when a humpback whale came along and swallowed him. Whole. Which is the best way to be swallowed by a whale, just in case it decides to spit you out later. That’s what happened to Michael, but he was inside the whale for nearly a minute before it rejected him as a meal.

Now, a minute seems like a pretty short time when you’re engaged in normal activities, like watching television, or reading a book, or changing your oil. I imagine a minute seems a lot longer if you spend it inside a whale. Michael thought he was going to die, and if you’d asked me at the time, I wouldn’t’ve given a plug nickel for his chances, myself.

But the whale evidently didn’t care for his taste, so it swam to the surface and spat him out. He was checked out at a hospital but surprisingly had only slight injuries from the ordeal. Not counting the mental trauma of being inside a huge mammal while under water, of course.

Nick Myhill wasn’t quite so lucky in his whale encounter. Nick is an 18-year-old Aussie from Narooma, about 200 miles south of Sydney. He and his stepfather, Matt, were fishing off the coast of Narooma when a whale breached and fell on the boat. Matt was able to call Marine Rescue on his radio, and managed to get the boat back to shore. Nick was taken to a hospital with head and neck injuries, and remains in a coma. Hopefully he’ll be OK.

The species of the whale wasn’t mentioned in any of the stories I found about this incident, but humpbacks are pretty common in that area, and are known for doing a lot of breaching. I’m assuming that breaching means ‘to come flying out of the water like a Greyhound bus.’ Which is a pretty accurate comparison, since humpback whales can grow to 55 feet long and weigh about 80,000 pounds. You don’t want to catch one on your Zebco, that’s for sure.

This was an unusual accident, but you never know what’s going to happen when you encounter wildlife, especially big wildlife. Every year visitors at Yellowstone National Park are injured by bison, usually because they get too close trying to take pictures. The park bison spend most of their time engaging in docile bison-type activities, such as grazing and standing and breathing, but if they decide you’re too close, they can get testy. And sometimes ‘too close’ means ‘in Wyoming.’

Yellowstone National Park bison

Yellowstone National Park bison

Bears are also unpredictable, and it’s common for city folks, whose animal knowledge comes mostly from watching Disney movies, to think bears are cute and cuddly and friendly, and want tourons to give them a belly rub and scratch behind their ears. Yeah, not so much.

A Yellowstone visitor recently got out of her car and approached a mama grizzly and two cubs recently to take some pictures. Which makes you wonder why no one has yet invented a zoom lens. The bear charged the woman but, luckily, didn’t attack. Maybe it doesn’t like the taste of Karen.

Grizzly bears

Grizzly bears

The Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. recently issued a warning for people to avoid fighting bears, after a YouGov America poll found that six percent of people polled thought they could win an unarmed fight against a grizzly bear. Which makes me wonder what their definition of ‘win’ might be. Probably not the same as mine.

Maybe 17-year-old Hailey Morinico was one of those polled. A brown bear with cubs was climbing a low concrete wall around her backyard recently, and took a swipe at one of Hailey’s dogs. So Hailey ran out and pushed the bear off the wall. With her bare hands. Wearing a dress. The video is pretty impressive, as is Hailey’s bravery, but it might be pertinent to point out that pushing bears is not recommended by wildlife experts. Pushing bears is not even recommended by wildlife idiots. If you’re vague on what bears can do, you should probably watch The Revenant again. And maybe lay off the Disney movies.

Oddly, the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. hasn’t offered any advice about whale encounters, but my advice is to avoid them, too. And leave the lobsters alone. They’re probably working together . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who makes a habit of not annoying large, irritable beasties. Write to him at [email protected]

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