A tour operator who was almost swallowed by a whale has said the experience made him realise just how small humans are.
South African Rainer Schimpf had been filming a sardine run – where gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks gather fish into bait balls.
As he was snorkelling on the surface of the water off South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Harbour, a Bryde’s whale emerged and its open jaws, engulfing him headfirst.
“Once you’re grabbed by something that’s 15 tonnes heavy and very fast in the water, you realise you’re actually only that small in the middle of the ocean,” he told Sky News, using his hands to signal something small.
Mr Schimpf, 51, said he and two others had been in the water for two or three minutes when the whale caught him.
He said: “I was busy concentrating on the sharks because you want to know if the shark is in front of you or behind you, left or right, so we were very focused on the sharks and their behaviour – then suddenly it got dark.”
He estimated the whale was up to 15m long and weighed 20 tonnes, saying: “There was not really time for fear at that moment, just pure instinct”.
When the whale grabbed him, he said he had felt pressure around his body.
He said: “Once I felt something had grabbed me on the hip, I knew instantly it was a whale and my next thought was that, firstly, he can’t swallow me because I’m too big – so that was kind of an instant relief.
“Also I realised that the pressure [on his body] didn’t increase, it actually stopped at a certain point
“So my next thought was that the whale may take me down into the ocean and release me further down, so I instantly held my breath.
“Obviously he realised I was not what he wanted to eat so he spat me out again.”
In almost 20 years as a dive tour operator, Mr Schimpf said such an experience was unusual because the whales would usually be spotted by divers before they made a dash for dinner.
“We were very astonished that out of nowhere this whale came up,” he said.
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