A researcher diving in the South Pacific had a close encounter with a humpback whale that she says was trying to save her from a deadly tiger shark.
Last September Marine Biologist Nan Hauser, 63, was diving in the waters off Cook Island in the South Pacific shooting film for an upcoming nature documentary. With cameras already rolling, Hauser spotted a 25-ton humpback whale approach her as she prepared to receive her school bus-sized guest.
At first, the humpback seemed to just be swimming in for a closer look, but soon it began to exhibit even more curious behavior, swimming straight at Hauser and nudging her with its massive mouth. A few times the humpback tried to tuck her under its dorsal fin, and at one point it even got under her and lifted her above the water.
Hauser admits to National Geographic she had no idea what was going on and feared that the massive creature would injure her severely. "I was prepared to lose my life," she said. "I thought he was going to hit me and break my bones."
Barely visible in the first minute of the video is another whale that forms part of the humpback’s pod, and not visible at all is a terrifying predator: a tiger shark, a species known for attacking people.
Suddenly, to Hauser, the whale's actions made sense. The whale was trying to protect her from a predator the same as it would if she was her calf.
In the wild, humpback whales will vigorously protect their young by shielding them from predators like orcas and sharks, placing themselves or their massive fins in between the danger and the baby. In extreme examples, humpback whales will even lift their young out of the water to protect it from hungry deep-sea denizens.
However, not everyone is convinced that the whale meant to save Hauser. Martin Biuw of Norway's Institute of Marine Research tells National Geographic it could have just been a case of mistaken maternal instinct.
"It is possible that she may show protective behavior towards a human (or other animal for that matter) if she has for instance recently lost her calf," he said.