Whale of a time for lucky Jonah

Local | Georgina Noyce 12 Mar 2019

The last few months have recorded a wide range of wonderful and amazing events involving animals. Using those to balance the sick and horrifying doesn't wipe the horrible out entirely, but it does help a little.

Particularly amazing is the report of a snorkeling tour guide off the coast of South Africa who is now going to have to be called Jonah. The lucky man was minding his own business helping to film sardines running as they were hunted by seals, dolphins, whales, gannets and sharks when he had a surreal experience.

Carefully tracking the position of the ultimate predator, the shark, he missed the whale that appeared from the deep and scooped him up - head first into its gaping maw. Weighing in at some 15 tonnes, the whale had a firm, but fortunately not lethal, hold on the man around his hips.

Obviously humans taste nothing like sardines, so the stately Bryde whale very sensibly spat out the rubber-wrapped human. It was, after all, in competition with a large number of other sardine-loving hunters, so wasting time picking rubber and human out of its baleen plates (they don't have teeth) was a waste of good eating time.

Killer whales, on the other hand, earned the name not because they hunt humans, but because when they accidentally take a human, their teeth, designed to grasp and kill seals, are also sharp enough to shred a human.

The baleen group of whales, however, of which the snorkeler-grabbing whale is a member, take in huge gulps of water, then allow the water to drain out, retaining the hundreds, if not thousands, of small fish and krill inhabiting the water.

That tour guide has the ultimate story - head first into a whale and living to tell the tale, with just a few bruises apparently - and an amazing picture - to back up his story. It might be sometime though before he can steel himself to swim with whales again.

But then again, humans have shown themselves to be extremely resilient, so maybe he jumped straight back in - well away from the sardine-hunting baleen, of course.

Many have survived encounters with animals far larger than they are, but few have come out so unscathed from something that could literally swallow them whole.

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