THIS is the moment a lucky diver miraculously escaped death after nearly being swallowed by a 40-tonne whale.
Rainer Schimpf, 47, was filming the annual sardine run when a 15m Bryde’s whale attacked a ball of fish below him.
Luckily the giant mammal swerved at the last moment to avoid sucking him into its gaping mouth – but it still gave him a shock as it breached just yards away.
He said: “I saw him coming up and I thought ‘that’s it for me’. The diameter of his mouth was big enough to swallow a car – he would have barely felt me going in.”
The incident occurred off the coast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, during the annual sardine run.
Tour operator Rainer was out with guests and his wife, Silke, who managed to take a photograph as the whale breached just yards from her husband.
The sardine run sees billions of the tiny fish migrating up the east coast of Africa – attracting sharks, dolphins, diving birds and whales – including the huge Bryde’s whales.
Rainer kept his distance from the giant mammal but was left helpless when it emerged from the depths to swallow a mass of sardines – known as a bait ball.
He said: “There was a little bait ball below me and a group of sharks. It was only when the sharks scattered that I realised a whale was coming up directly at me.
“At the last moment he must have realised I was there and he diverted away from me and actually missed most of the bait ball.
“Had he not diverted he would have swallowed me whole.”
He added: “Years ago there was a story about a guy who was swallowed by a sperm whale. His friends managed to snare the whale and cut it open and found he was still alive inside. However, he was bleached white and blinded by the animal’s stomach acid.”
Bryde’s whales feed on plankton, crustaceans and schools of fish, which they engulf in their huge mouths, and can be found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world.
Rainer, who hails from Germany, believes this is first time someone has captured one of them attacking a bait ball at this angle.