Biologist Nan Hauser was swimming alongside a Humpback whale off the coast of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands when the animal suddenly tucked her under its pectoral fin and pushed her around with its head.
At first, Hauser wasn't sure what was happening or why the whale was acting this way. She had spent nearly three years studying these giants and had never seen behavior like this before. Then she saw what she at first thought was another whale, but after noticing its tail was moving side to side -- not up and down, like mammal's -- she knew it was a shark.
The 15-foot Tiger shark had been circling nearby, but Hauser had been too engrossed in the whale to notice. But the whale saw it coming, and Hauser told The Independent that she believes the whale purposefully shielded her from the predator.
"I've spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn't even realize that they were protecting me," she told The Independent.
"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," she continued. "I tried to get away from him for fear that if he rammed me too hard, or hit me with his flippers or tail, that would break my bones and rupture my organs. If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned."
But despite being "a bit bruised up," Hauser emerged unscathed -- and with a video of the encounter. She hopes that research on whales' altruistic behavior will be expanded by sharing the footage.
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