For years, 65-year-old biologist Nan Hauser has worked to save the whales. Recently, a humpback whale swimming off the coast of Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, saved her when a deadly 17-foot tiger shark approached. Though Hauser was frightened during the ordeal, she managed to capture footage of the incident. Only later did she learn that the 25-ton whale was protecting her from a shark and a “potentially deadly” attack.
“I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realise that they were protecting me.”
The Independent reports that Hauser had been swimming with the humpback whale when all of a sudden, it tucked her under its pectoral fin and pushed her forward with his head and mouth.
“I wasn’t sure what the whale was up to when he approached me, and it didn’t stop pushing me around for over 10 minutes. It seemed like hours. I was a bit bruised up,” she said. “I’ve spent 28 years underwater with whales, and have never had a whale so tactile and so insistent on putting me on his head, or belly, or back, or, most of all, trying to tuck me under his huge pectoral fin.
The biologist was scared that if the whale hit her with his flippers or tail, rammed her too hard, or held her underwater too long, she would die. However, she knew she needed to remain calm.
“I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear,” she explained. “I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter.”
While she was in the water, Hauser saw another whale fighting off something in the water. Only later did she learn that it was a predator — specifically, a 17-foot-long tiger shark.
“Other fishermen and divers have seen this same shark nearby the reef and say that it is as big as a pickup truck. Some say that it is 20 feet long,” said Hauser.
Thanks to the humpback whale and her diligent team, Hauser escaped unscathed. In her three decades of studying the mammals, Hauser has never witnessed such behavior. She believes it may be proof that whales have an intuitive desire to protect other species, such as humans. The implications of such a finding, if it were true, would be huge.
Because this is the first time a humpback whale has been documented saving a human from a shark, Hauser and her team will use the footage to expand research and awareness of such actions from whales.
“There is a published scientific paper about humpbacks protecting other species of animals, by Robert Pitman,” said Hauser. “For instance, they hide seals under their pectoral fins to protect them from killer whales. They truly display altruism – sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives.”
Hauser added that it is very important to not touch whales. However, she did not ignore the irony of the situation:
“I never touch the whales that I study unless they are sick or stranded on the beach. In my head, I was a bit amused since I write Rules and Regulations about whale harassment – and here I was being harassed by a whale.”
h/t The Independent