“It’s funny how the tables are turned here,” she said. “I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me!”
Nan Hauser, 63, is a whale biologist in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The President and Director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, Hauser has spent her life protecting whales.
But when Hauser went out to collect research one afternoon, something unexpected happened.
Normally, the whales she studied were swimming at a safe distance away from her. However, a large humpback whale she’d never seen before suddenly approached her.
The 50,000 pound animal began to push her around in the water and even lifted her up out of the water at one point.
“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 said.
“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,” she continued. “If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned.”
Knowing the animal could sense if she began panicking, Hauser did her best to stay calm and focus on the whale.
“I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear. I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter.”
It wasn’t until she finally noticed another nearby whale that Hauser understood the situation.
After seeing the other whale’s tail moving side to side instead of up and down, she realized it was actually a shark. A tiger shark.
On her nearby research vessel, Hauser’s crew had stopped filming her in fear that she would not live.
“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.”
But thankfully, Hauser was able to make it back to her team unharmed. The whale even came back to check that she was safe.
Humpback whales have been known to protect seals from killer whales, but Hauser believes that this is the first case of a human being protected by a whale.
Now, she is thankful that her life was spared by such an unlikely friend.
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