By Travis Fedschun
Published March 10, 2019
Rainer Schimpf, 51, was snorkeling off the coast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, when he ended up in the path of a Bryde's whale, which opened his jaws and engulfed him headfirst.
"We were very astonished that out of nowhere this whale came up," he told Sky News. "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 behavior -- then suddenly it got dark."
Schimpf, who has worked as a dive operator for over 15 years, said he was in the water with two others for just a matter of minutes before the whale appeared. He had happened to be with a group recording a sardine run, which is where marine animals such as dolphins, whales, and sharks gather fish into bait balls.
The 51-year-old said once the whale grabbed him, he felt pressure around his body but soon realized he was too big for the whale to swallow him whole which was "kind of an instant relief."
"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," he told Sky News. "Obviously he realized I was not what he wanted to eat so he spat me out again."
Unlike the biblical story of Jonah, Schimpf didn't end up in the animal's belly but was able to swim away after being released.
Bryde's whales are members of the baleen whale family, a group that includes blue whales and humpback whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Bryde’s whales are named for Johan Bryde, a Norwegian who built the first whaling stations in South Africa in the early 20th century," the agency says. "Bryde’s whales are found in warm, temperate oceans including the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific."
The whales can weigh about 90,000 pounds and grow to a length of 55 feet, according to the NOAA. The whales have a diet that consists mainly of krill, red crabs, shrimp and a "variety of schooling fishes," but clearly not adult humans.
Schimpf said the whole experience showed him just how small humans are in the world.
"Once you're grabbed by something that's 15 tons heavy and very fast in the water, you realize you're actually only that small in the middle of the ocean," he told Sky News.