Rainer Schimpf, 51, works as a tour operator in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He normally takes visitors whale watching in Algoa Bay. However, he had a rather more close encounter with a Bryde’s whale during February.

The video below shows Schimpf with his legs and head hanging out of the whale’s mouth after it grabbed him for a potential snack.

Schimpf’s wife watches on in horror

The incident happened around 46 km (29 m) offshore, while the sardine run was in progress. Schimpf was taking video footage of a bait ball of sardines when it happened. A bait ball is formed when the fish feel threatened.

Rainer's wife, Silke, had to watch in horror as Rainer’s head and torso hung from the Bryde’s whale’s mouth. It took a number of seconds for the whale to decide the wet-suited snorkeler wasn’t edible and it spat him out in one piece.

Rainer said he had held his breath the entire time, as he expected the whale to dive under the water. Schimpf told mype.co.za that the whole world suddenly went dark around him and he felt an “enormous pressure” around his waist, where he was wearing a weight belt.

Rainer was shooting sharks and dolphins when it happened

Schimpf said at the time it happened, he was filming video footage of dusky sharks, dolphins, penguins, gannets, gulls and cormorants feeding on the sardines. He had two security snorkelers alongside him as the whale suddenly erupted up through the sardines. As reported by The Guardian, Rainer said he instantly knew what had happened – the whale had included him in its massive mouthful of sardines.

He did say he knew the whale would be unable to swallow him down into its stomach due to his size.

Schimpf’s experience with marine life then kicked in and he held his breath straight away, believing the whale would dive down to enjoy its meal before spitting him out.

However, he started feeling more pressure around his waist at the time when he believes the huge animal realised its mistake. The whale then turned sideways, opening its mouth a little to let Rainer out. Rainer said he was washed out with what seemed to him to be tons of water.

As reported by Times Live, Rainer was then dragged up to the surface by his buoyant wetsuit and swam back to the boat. He climbed in, instantly checking to see if he and his camera were OK. It turned out there were no broken bones or cracked ribs, so he was fine, but he did say he was still full of adrenaline and the action around the bait ball of sardines was continuing, so he dived in again, looking for sharks.

Videos of the incident are going viral on YouTube.

Rainer It was only later when he saw photographs of him hanging partially out of the whale’s mouth that he realised he had been extremely lucky. Schimpf said when shooting in nature, seconds decide whether you will get a good shot, or become an animal’s prey. Seconds then decide whether you will survive.