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He didn't quite make it to the belly of the whale, but Rainer Schimpf sure had a Jonah-like experience when he was snapped up and spit out by a whale.

Sea conditions were perfect 25 nautical miles off Port Elizabeth Harbour on the day Schimpf and his team set out to film a sardine run, an event Schimpf says they've been documenting for nearly 15 years. The sardines, however, turned out to be only one phenomenon on the February day in question.

During what Schimpf, 51, described in a video as "the biggest migration in the southern hemisphere in terms of animals gathering along the coast," the South Africa dive tour operator saw the water churn up around him and his team and darkness. Then, he felt pressure on his hip.

"Once I felt the pressure, I instantly knew a whale had grabbed me."

The diver said his instant reaction was to hold his breath, fearing the whale would descend further into the ocean before releasing him.

"I could not imagine in my head how he was actually holding me or grabbing me, but I could feel the pressure on my hip.... there's no time for fear in a situation like that, you have to use your instincts."

Schimpf's wife, Silke, said a Bryde's whale, such as the one that caught her husband, is large enough to cause significant injury to a human by the flip of a fin.

"We were all not aware of how the situation would end," she said.

The real-life run-in with a whale is one some have likened to Jonah's experience in the Bible. Jonah 1:17 (NIV) recounts, "the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights."

Schimpf says he felt the head of the whale turning to either side before the pressure on Schimpf's hip was released and he was washed out of the whale's mouth.

Heinz Toperczer, the photographer who captured Schimpf's incident on camera, says he's never in 25 years experienced an incident such as this but is "really happy that everything turned out so well."

Witness to the event, Claudia Weber-Gebert stressed in the video that the incident was not to be confused with an attack. 

"I really want to point out that whales are no maneaters, this was no attack, it was not the fault of the whale."

While Schimpf says the experience was "interesting," it is not something he says he ever wants to do again. "I don't think I had a whale of a time. I now have the inside knowledge of a whale that no one else has.

"I'm sure it was a surprise for the whale as well," Schimpf said.

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