At the Port Elizabeth Harbor, a sardine run happens in the Southern Hemisphere annually. It is the biggest animal migration where gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales, and shark are all gathered together to rally fish into bait balls. While documenting the event, a wildlife photographer, unexpectedly, ended up inside the mouth of a whale.
Rainer Schimpf, a 51-year-old wildlife photographer has been working as a dive tour operator in town for more than 15 years. Every year, he makes sure that he was able to document the migration, but, unluckily, when he was filming a sardine run in the coast of South Africa, he ended up becoming the bait himself and was bitten by a whale.
“The next moment, it got dark and I felt some pressure on my hip.”
As clearly shown in the video, Schimpf ended in the mouth of a feeding Bryde’s whale (scientific name: Balaenoptera edeni edeni). A Bryde’s whale is usually around 14 to 15 meters long (45 to 50 feet) and opens its mouth to engulf whatever is in its way. And unknowingly, the whale engulfed the photographer.
Schimpf wasn’t able to able to avoid the situation and all he can do was hope that the whale would not take him deeper. After a few seconds, his wish was granted as the whale released him through the mouth.
“The next moment I kind of felt the whale was turning either way, and the pressure was released, and then I was washed out of the mouth,” said Schimpf.
“I [came] back up onto the surface where surely I wasn’t looking too clever.”
Another photographer, who was on a nearby boat named Heinz Toperczer, had witnessed and managed to capture the terrifying moments. Both the human and the whale did not expect the accidental event.
“As they come up with their mouths open, they can’t really see what is in front of them, and I guess the whale thought it was a dolphin,” said fellow dive instructor Claudia Weber-Gebert in the video.
That terrifying moment was merely an accident, not an attack because whales are gentle giants and not man-eaters.
“Whales are not man-eaters. This was no attack, it was not the fault of the whale, and they are really sensitive. They are gentle giants, and it was just an accident.”
Having relatively small esophagus, the baleen whale family is suited to eat small prey like plankton, krill, and sardines but not as large as a human and that could be the reason for his survival.
“Had it been a shark, it would have been two of me, and I don’t think that I would have seen anything again,” Schimpf later told 9News.