Divers are constantly putting their lives at risk to get up close and personal with the creatures of the deep blue sea. But what happens if you get a bit too close? Or if you find yourself in a place you never prepared for? Mother nature knows no mercy, my friends.
Rainer Schimpf is a wildlife photographer and out of all the great shots he's ever captured, he probably never expected to be the main feature of one of the most historic shots ever. Well, both him and the whale's mouth he ended up in, of course.
[caption id="attachment_1501" align="alignnone" width="701"] Facebook/ @Rainer Schimpf[/caption]
Schimpf is a 51-year-old wildlife photographer from South Africa, and back in March he was shooting footage of a sardine run just off the coast, near the Port Elizabeth harbor. That area is said to feature the biggest migration the southern hemisphere experiences in terms of animals. On the day of this legendary shoot the weather conditions were perfect, there was nothing but flat seas and blues skies and that gave Rainer the impression it would be a smooth sail and a good day for him and his camera. That is until he suddenly found himself living out his own version of the Book Of Jonah.
[caption id="attachment_1503" align="alignnone" width="702"] Facebook/ @Rainer Schimpf[/caption]
"It all happened very fast," Rainer recalled back on the moment, noting that this was the first day they were out at sea that season. He was trying to get used to his surroundings when suddenly everything went dark. "I felt some pressure on my hip and once I felt the pressure I instantly knew a whale had grabbed me," he said.
[caption id="attachment_1504" align="alignnone" width="701"] Shutterstock[/caption]
Rainer was wedged within the jaw of not just any whale but, an enormous Bryde's whale. This mammal is one of the residents in the South African coastal waters and can be seen in Plettenberg Bay all year round. They can grow up to about the size of a big school bus and weigh up to 30 tons, so the chances of Rainer coming out of this alive were less than slim.
[caption id="attachment_1505" align="alignnone" width="700"] News Today[/caption]
"I held my breath and I was prepared, and that's the only thing I could do, I mean there was no other thing I could do,'' Schimpf said. "I mean, you can't fight a 15-ton animal." The image above is of him inside the whale's mouth. Oddly enough, being eaten by the whale was the last worry on his mind.
[caption id="attachment_1506" align="alignnone" width="702"] Shutterstock[/caption]
Rainer had no time to be scared. He used his knowledge and instincts to remain calm in a chaotic situation. He instantly took a deep breath and held it because Bryde's whales usually drag their prey down under water. This is what Schimpf worried about the most.
"Obviously it can't swallow me, because the throat of a whale is not big enough to swallow a human, and my next thought was it's most likely going to dive down with me,'' Schimpf said.
[caption id="attachment_1507" align="alignnone" width="700"] Facebook/ @Rainer Schimpf[/caption]
Another problem he considered was the heavy presence of sharks during a sardine run. "It's not the whale you should be afraid of,'' he said. "It's more the situation." Moreover, with as massive as a Bryde's whale can be, even the slightest bump can crush bones and seriously damage even the strongest human.
[caption id="attachment_1508" align="alignnone" width="700"] Youtube/ Barcroft Animals[/caption]
Whether it was a miracle, a grace of God, a fluke or Rainer wasn't salty enough for the whale to eat, before he knew it, the whale spat him out. "I felt that the whale was turning either side and that the pressure was released and then I was washed out of its mouth." The entire moment lasted two seconds and was captured by photographer Heinz Toperczer, who was in a nearby boat with Schimpf's wife, Silke.
[caption id="attachment_1509" align="alignnone" width="701"] Facebook/ @Rainer Schimpf[/caption]
When Rainer made it back to the boat, he looked at Heinz and asked the only question that would come out of a wildlife photographers mouth, after almost dying: "I looked at him and I said 'Did you get it?'" Rainer was only too happy when he found that this incredible moment had been captured.
[caption id="attachment_1511" align="alignnone" width="701"] Youtube/ Barcroft Animals[/caption]
Rainer has no bitter feelings towards what happened. He knows that whales are not maneaters. They're friendly giants and this whale must have been just as confused as Rainer was when he thought he was about to eat a nice juicy dolphin.
"I showed (the photo) to my son, and he was impressed,'' Schimpf said. The cherry on top of this entire story is that his son's name is Jonas.