Insight & Analysis

This is a little hard to swallow

Published: Mar 2019

Snorkelling on the surface of the water off South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Harbour bought local tour operator Rainer Schimpf the kind of experience that money can’t buy.

He was swallowed by a whale.

Schimpf had just finished filming a ‘sardine run’ – where gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks gather the fish into huge bait balls – when the 15-metre long 15-tonne Bryde’s whale engulfed him, head first.

The 51-year old told reporters: “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 continued: “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.”

Schimpf also realised that the pressure of the whales jaws on his body had stopped. “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.”

Schimpf may consider his escape a lucky one, as often where there’s a whale there’s a way.

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