A professional diver was swallowed and spat out by a massive Bryde's whale off the coast of South Africa.
Rainer Schimpf, who is also a marine life photographer, will never forget this day. The 51-year-old had just entered the water to film a sardine run. Suddenly, he felt the sea rising.
"For almost 15 years now, we conduct the sardine run, and we've always been documenting and filming it. It's a natural event and the biggest migration the southern hemisphere in terms of animals gathering along the coast," explains Schimpf.
"The day was sunny, the seas were flat, and the conditions were perfect. So, we launched off the Port Elizabeth Harbor and traveled about 25 nautical miles from shore."
"I was trying to get a shot of a shark, and it all happened very fast because it was the first day, and you kind of need to tune into the whole scenario."
"The next moment, it got dark, and I felt some pressure on my hip, and once I felt it, I instantly knew a whale had grabbed me."
The event reminds us of Jonah, the Hebrew prophet who was swallowed by a giant fish or whale and remained inside the animal for three days and nights.
Following the Instinct
The dive operator couldn't imagine the whale was holding or grabbing him, but he says he could feel the pressure on his hip.
"There is no time for fear in a situation like that. You have to use your instinct. I held my breath because I thought the whale was going to dive down and release me, at some point, much deeper in the ocean," continues Rainer Schimpf, CEO of Expert Tours.
"Then, the next moment, I felt that the whale was turning, and the pressure was released, and I was washed out of the mouth and got back up to the surface."
Fortunately, everything turned out well, and Rainer Schimpf was able to swim back to the support boat.
"Once I got to the boat, I just looked at [photographer] Heinz Toperczer and asked him: 'Did you get it?' He said yes, and I then knew this was an extraordinary event," adds the lucky diver.
"It happened extremely fast. Suddenly, I was inside a whale looking out. It gives me a connection to the whale, which I don't think anyone else had before. And I'm sure it was a surprise for the whale as well."
The team working with the diver underlines that whales are not man-eaters, that this was not an attack, and that they are really sensitive creatures.
"It was an interesting experience for me, but surely nothing I want to do again. I now have the inside knowledge of a whale which nobody else has," jokes Schimpf.