Diver Rainer Schimpf reveals how he escaped from the mouth of a whale near Port Elizabeth

Victoria WardThe Telegraph
VideoThe diver escaped with his life after a whale swallowed him and spat him out.

When Jonah was swallowed by a whale it took three days and three nights before he was finally spat back out, alive, on a beach.

Fortunately for Rainer Schimpf, 51, his ordeal was of less biblical proportions when he too found himself trapped in the jaws of a huge whale.

The South African dive tour operator has described the moment everything went dark as his head and torso were swallowed by a Bryde’s whale in a feeding frenzy.

“There was no time for fear or any emotion,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“I knew instantly what had happened. I knew that a whale had come and taken me and I instinctively held my breath, assuming that it would dive down again and spit me out somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean.”

Mr Schimpf had been snorkelling with two colleagues 29 miles off the coast of Port Elizabeth.

The experienced marine conservationist and photographer was attempting to film a sardine run, where gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks work together to gather the fish into bait balls.

Keen to get the best shots, he plunged into the centre of a swirling bait ball — but when the sea suddenly churned, the group realised that something strange was happening.

Out of the darkness a Bryde’s whale shot up from the depths, jaws wide open.

In that split second Mr Schimpf found himself wedged, head first, inside the mammal’s mouth.

“I felt enormous pressure around my waist, which is when I guess the whale realised its mistake,” he added.

“As the whale turned sideways, it opened its mouth slightly to release me and I was washed out, together with what felt like tons of water, of his mouth, while the whale itself swallowed all the fish in its throat.”

Watching from a nearby boat were Heinz Toperczer, a photographer, and Silke, Mr Schimpf’s wife, who looked on in horror as events unfolded.

The ordeal lasted just 1.8 seconds, barely long enough to register the full impact of what had happened, before Mr Schimpf was back out and in the water, still clutching his underwater camera.

“Silke saw there was a foreign object in the whale — but it was only when I popped up by the boat she realised it was me,” Mr Schimpf said.

Incredibly, the experience barely knocked the wind out of him, and after checking he had no injuries, he dived back into the water in search of the bait ball. Mr Schimpf said the trio returned to the shore in the evening.

“Heinz checked his images and it was only once I saw them that I realised just how lucky I was to be looking at them,” he said.

“Seconds decide if you become prey, seconds decide your survival and seconds are all that counts.”

Mr Schimpf said it was not an attack.

“It was going for the fish and I happened to be in the wrong spot. I was collateral damage and I’m sure it was as frightening for the whale as it was for me.”

Bryde’s whales can reach lengths of 55ft and weigh 30 tons.

They hunt krill, shrimp, crabs, herring, sardines, mackerel and anchovies among other fish, lunging towards their prey and often skimming the surface of the seas in search of food.

Meanwhile, a pod of killer whales with distinctive round faces has fuelled speculation among scientists of a new species.

The ‘Type D’ whales were first seen by researchers in January off Cape Horn.

The scientists have managed to obtain genetic samples to establish whether the group is new to science.

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