Nan Hauser is a marine biologist who has been diving with whales for almost 30 years. In the following amazing photographs we can see the moment when a 50,000 pound (approximately 23 thousand kilograms) humpback whale pushed it over and over again through the water to protect it from a nearby shark.
In October, Hauser was diving in the waters off Muri Beach, Rarotonga, of the Cook Islands, in the South Pacific, with a crew that wanted to film her in the water with humpback whales. In an unusually persistent manner, one of the whales swam up to her and began to push her with its mouth and chin, apparently trying to tuck it under its pectoral fin.
Hauser commented to The Dodo:
He just wouldn’t stop touching me. I tried to walk away again and again, but he kept doing it. Finally he pushed me out of the water with his fin. He kept putting his eye right next to me and I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me.
The interaction continued the same for about 10 minutes and, with adrenaline pumping, the worst thoughts began to invade the mind of the female biologist. Hauser’s team was concerned for her, and abandoned their drone recording because, as Nan describes the moment, “they didn’t want to film my death.”
“I thought the camera crew was going to end up filming my death. One lash from a whale’s tail, and the pressure would break your bones. “
But it turned out that the whale was not the one Hauser had to fear. She quickly realized that there was a shark nearby, and the whale was doing its best to keep her away from him. Another hunchback in the distance kept watch, and repeatedly slapped its tail against the water; noise can be heard underwater for miles.
“I finally took my eye off the whale and saw something swimming very fast with its tail swinging from side to side. Whales swim with their tails going up and down… It was at that moment that I realized that it was a tiger shark, and it was one of the largest sharks I have ever seen in my life.
By this time, the whale had returned Hauser to the boat after a few intense minutes of grappling and spinning it. When the time came, Hauser quickly jumped into the boat and the whale even came back to keep an eye on it.
“I just put my hands on my face and started crying. I can’t say if they were tears of relief because I was alive, or because I had just experienced the most incredible thing I have ever seen in my life.
Humpback whales are known to care about others, and there are several documented cases of them trying to save other animals from danger. Marine biologist Bert Pitman analyzed this behavior for more than 60 years and concluded that humpback whales frequently band together to disrupt killer whale attacks, regardless of the type of animal being attacked.
So far, the Hauser encounter is the only documented case involving a human being. While Hauser did experience some bruising in the encounter, it didn’t stop her from returning to the same waters a few days later, on her birthday. A female humpback followed her boat for miles, and kept jumping out of the water as if to get her attention.
“I only knew that she was the second whale that day, the one that was hitting the water. I got into the water with her and she dove down. I thought ‘No, she didn’t recognize me.’ But right below me, she was coming up with her beautiful pectoral fins out. She put her flippers on and hugged me.
After a few days filled with turmoil, Hauser couldn’t help but feel more inspired than ever to continue her important work and to further educate people about the problems facing whales in the world’s oceans.