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May 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Snorkeler Gets Swallowed by a Whale

from the May, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When Jonah of the Bible got swallowed by a whale, it was three days before he was finally spat out. Luckily, Rainer Schimpf of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, was released a lot sooner after he found himself inside the mouth of a whale.

Schimpf, 51, has been organizing trips out to the famous Sardine Run, 25 miles off Port Elizabeth, for more than 15 years. Sometimes they can be disappointing, others they can result in spectacular one-off experiences to be treasured. Austrian diver Heinz Toperczer got one of those cherished moments when he captured video footage of Schimpf being gathered up in the mouth of a charging Brydes whale while snorkeling in February.

Schimpf told the Daily Telegraph that there was no time for fear or any emotion. "I knew instantly what had happened. I knew a whale had come and taken me, and I instinctively held my breath, assuming it would dive down again and spit me out somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean."

But then he felt enormous pressure around his waist, which is when the whale may have realized its mistake, Schimpf said. "As the whale turned sideways, he opened his mouth slightly to release me, and I was washed, together with what felt like tons of water, out of his mouth, while the whale himself was swallowing all the fish in his throat."

OK, maybe Schimpf didn't actually get swallowed, but it certainly was a one-off experience to find himself inside the whale's mouth even for just 1.8 seconds. Brydes whales can reach up to 55 feet long and weigh 30 tons, so they certainly have big mouths.

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