A biologist snorkeling off the coast of the Cook Islands believes she experienced the first recorded evidence that whales can act altruistically in protecting the life of a human.
According to The U.K. Independent, Nan Hauser was swimming near Rarotonga, the largest of 15 bodies that make up the island nation, when a close encounter with a 25-ton humpback whale took her by surprise.
She recalled the whale approach, tuck her under its pectoral fin, and move her along in the water with its head and body for roughly 10 minutes. It was not until they had started moving that she noticed a tiger shark swimming nearby, according to a U.K. Metro report.
Hauser’s account is bolstered by video footage she was able to capture, revealing an ordeal that left her battered but breathing.
“It seemed like hours,” she said. “I was a bit bruised up.”
In sharing her story, Hauser continually came back to her belief that the whale was intentionally steering her away from the 15-foot shark.
The whale could have easily killed her, she said, but it treated her in a way she had not witnessed in nearly three decades working with the massive animals.
“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 said. “If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned.”
The evidence, Hauser said, points her to the conclusion that the whale knew what it was doing in guiding her away from a shark she did not even know was getting closer.
“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.
As the incident occurred, she said a nearby team filming her dive turned off their cameras out of fear that they would be recording her death.
While she was able to stay “calm to a point,” Hauser admitted that she had resigned herself to a “deadly encounter” with the whale from the moment it began tossing her around in the water.
“I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear,” she said.
Despite the concern of everyone involved, however, Hauser emerged relatively unscathed.
A second whale played its part in the rescue by flipping its tail at the tiger shark, she said.
After a career dedicated to protecting whales, the poetry of this experience was not lost as she played it over in her head. While it was happening, however, she was focused too intently on the imminent danger the whale posed to recognize the threat in the background.
“I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me,” she added.
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