A diver in South Africa got almost swallowed whole by a whale in February but somehow managed to escape. Rainer Schimpf, 51, recently opened up about the surreal experience.
The incident happened when Schimpf was snorkeling off the coast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, filming dolphins, sharks, gannets, penguins, cormorants and gulls, with two security snorkelers swimming beside him in February.
"I was swimming and filming Sardines and Dusky sharks feeding on them. Suddenly the whole world around me got dark and I felt enormous pressure around my waist, in the area where my weight belt was situated and I knew instantly what had happened – a Bryde's Whale had accidentally included me in its mouth with its meal of the day," Schimpf told local news outlet Mype News.
The entire incident was caught on camera by photographer Heinz Toperczer, who was on a tour boat on the surface of the water, along with his wife who looked on with disbelief. The video of the incident, which went viral – being viewed over 185,000 times and shared more than 63,020 times – showed the diver's head and torso inside the whale's mouth and his legs flailing in the air.
Schimpf, with 20 years of experience as a marine conservationist under his belt, was busy concentrating on not getting attacked by a shark at the time of the incident, "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." When he got scooped up out of the blue by the whale, he said he kept his cool and reminded himself that the whale did not have the ability to swallow him whole.
"But my hard won experience kicked in and I instantly held my breath, thinking that the whale would instinctively dive down again before spitting me out somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean. I felt the pressure increase around my waist which is when I guess the whale realized his mistake as the whale turned sideways, opened his mouth slightly to release me and I was washed out, together with what felt like tons of water, of his mouth, while the whale himself was swallowing all the fish in his throat," he said.
After being spat out by the mammoth creature, Schimpf said he easy swam to the surface with the help of his Seacam Underwater Housing and his Xcel dive suit. His first instinct after getting back on the boat was to check "if I and the camera was OK. No broken bones, no cracked ribs so all was good."
Unfazed by the experience, the diver was ready to go back into the Indian Ocean minutes later to finish what he was out there to do. He didn't know his rare experience was filmed by someone until he was returning home in the evening. "Heinz checked his images and it was only once I saw the images that I realized just how lucky I was to be looking at them. Seconds decide in Nature whether you get a good shoot, seconds decide if you become prey, seconds decide your survival and seconds are all that counts," he said.
He also told Sky News that the experience made him realize how small human beings were compared to some of the other species 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 said.
This article originally appeared in IBTimes US.