Like the Bible’s Jonah, Rainer Schimpf has narrowly survived after being caught in the jaws of a whale.
The 51-year-old marine conservationist was swept into the mouth of a large Bryde’s whale off the coast of the southern South African town of Port Elizabeth while filming a sardine run last month.
“Looming up out of darkness below came a Bryde’s whale shooting up into the ball of fish, gulping all in its path,” he told AFP, adding that his legs were hanging from the mammal’s mouth during the incident at the end of February.
Schimpf’s wife Silke and a photographer watched on in horror from their boat, chartered to watch the famous sardine run which creates a marine feeding frenzy off Africa’s southern coast.
“I felt some pressure around my waist and I immediately knew what had happened.
“(It) accidentally included me in its mouth together with its main meal — the sardines.”
Schimpf, an award-winning conservationist with 20-years experience, said the ordeal lasted “matter of seconds” — rather than the three nights Jonah spent in a whale’s stomach, according to the Bible story.
“(Then) the whale realised its mistake and opened its mouth releasing me. I was washed out with what felt like tonnes of water from its mouth,” he said.
Bryde’s whales can weigh up to 30 tons when mature and typically eat krill and fish.
When he finally reached the surface he took a breath and rejoined his fellow snorkelers who were unaware of the unfolding drama.
“We swam back to the vessel, climbed up and checked if I and the camera were OK — no broken bones, no cracked ribs — so all was good,” he said.
“Pumped up with adrenaline and not wanting to miss the bait ball action, I went back into the sea, this time looking for sharks,” he added with a smile.
Schimpf has extensively documented Orcas killing dolphins and their hunting behaviour.
He is also an authority on sardine tracking and the predators that follow the sardine runs.
In the Bible story Jonah goes against God’s will and is swallowed whole by a whale in a storm — but is returned to the land unscathed when he repents his sins.
Schimpf remains undeterred following his narrow escape, telling AFP that “if I was to be reborn, I would like to come back as a whale”.