What initially began as a simple snorkeling trip, soon had this experienced diver fretting for her life. Usually friendly toward humans, a massive humpback whale had approached the woman and began acting in a way that was completely out of character for the gigantic marine mammal species. Much to the diver’s apprehension, the giant whale refused to leave her alone but she could never have guessed the reason behind its startling behavior. The alarming events that soon unfolded made her realize what the whale was actually trying to do. Read on to learn about the underwater encounter that left scientists shocked!
Veteran marine biologist Nan Hauser had spent her life researching and monitoring ocean life, particularly whales and dolphins. For 28 years her aquatic pursuits had led to her take part in countless dives and expeditions in the Cook Islands and the Bahamas.
Hauser had helped turn the territorial waters off the South Pacific’s Cook Islands into a whale sanctuary and was a regular on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Despite her oceanic expertise, one recent dive led to an unforgettably heart-stopping encounter unlike any she’d ever experienced before.
As one of the world’s leading whale experts, Nan Hauser resides on Rarotonga – the largest of the Cook Islands. The 15-island nation in the South Pacific is home to 21 species of dolphins and whales, more than 600 fish species and 16 types of sharks.
It was just an ordinary day for Hauser when she took a boat out to the sapphire blue waters for a scheduled dive. Just a few minutes after she anchored and entered the water, however, she saw a massive figure that had emerged from the deep and was heading straight for her.
As the creature rapidly approached, Nan Hauser realized just what was swimming toward her. It was an enormous male humpback whale – the type of which can weigh up to 40 tons and grow 60 feet long. The marine biologist estimated that this one weight about a whopping 50,000-pounds.
Hauser was used to diving with these kinds of colossal sea mammals and was familiar with many that she regularly monitored during her studies. However, she’d never seen this specific whale before and she could never have guessed what it was about to do.
Having spent decades in the ocean, by this point Nan Hauser had acquired a special understanding of sea animals and knew what to do so as not to scare or antagonize the miraculous creatures of the deep. So, very rarely did anything scare her.
Hauser wasn’t initially afraid and didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary as she calmly observed the giant mammal swimming nearby. After the humpback whale surfaced once for air, it got closer and then suddenly did something that made her heart race.
The marine biologist had no intention of initiating any interaction with the whale, but “instead of swimming past me, he came right toward me,” she told NPR. “And he didn’t stop coming towards me until I was on his head.”
Along with her wetsuit and fins, Hauser was equipped with just a snorkel and a camera. At first, the scientist couldn’t understand what was happening as she found herself precariously on top of the marine mammals’ huge head. But the whale’s peculiar behavior didn’t stop there.
As a marine biologist, Nan Hauser always has the best interests of the animals she studies in mind. When in the wild, she is careful not to touch the whales she studies unless they are sick or stranded on shore. But on that particular day, it was the whale that initiated contact.
“In my head, I was a bit amused since I write Rules and Regulations about whale harassment – and here I was being harassed by a whale,” she recalled of the bewildering moment. However, things quickly became increasingly concerning from there.
The enormous humpback began to roll around in the water and then it started to nudge Hauser. The whale even went so far as to tuck her under its pectoral fin and at one point she was holding on for her life as the whale lifted her out of the water.
Hauser, who heads the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, is no stranger to the types of giant sea mammal that was in front of her. And while she’s not usually scared of them, in this particular instance, she started to fear for her life.
The whale continued to push Hauser around with its mouth closed for about 10 minutes. For her, however, the experience seemed to last for hours. At that point, the veteran marine biologist grimly came to a grim conclusion: “I was prepared to lose my life.”
“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.” Just when she thought all hope was lost, her brain went into survival mode and she remembered a life-saving tactic.
“I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear,” she said looking back. Despite the close connection Hauser usually felt with animals, she was experiencing an unusual amount of trepidation as she tried to stay calm and figure out how to escape from the whale.
“I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter,” she admitted. Although Hauser had a team with her at the site, the distraught crew couldn’t do much to interfere with a 25-ton whale. What Hauser’s colleagues would do next indicated that they were also bracing for the worst.
As part of her oceanic research, Nan Hauser and a fellow diver had been recording the dive. Both of them were fitted with cameras and their footage captured the extraordinary encounter close-up. The other cameraman had never filmed whales before, however, and didn’t know just how peculiar the whale’s behavior was.
Meanwhile, above the surface, the crew members on a nearby boat were worried for Hauser’s safety and actually abandoned aerial drone footage that they’d been shooting seeing, as Hauser puts it, that they “did not want to film my death.” Little did they know then, but the worst was yet to come.
As Hauser attempted to defuse the situation, she made a point of keeping eye contact with the humpback whale. In all her years in the field, Hauser had never experienced such an event and found herself in uncharted waters so to say.
The whale was pushing her further away from her research vessel, and Hauser frantically thought her chances of swimming to safety were rapidly diminishing. In all that time Nan was focused on the whale and was completely unaware that there was something else was lurking nearby.
Already miles from the shore, Nan Hauser could make another whale in the distance. Like the first whale, this one was also demonstrating odd behavior and was making a stir by persistently slapping its tail against the surface of the water.
The first whale hadn’t let up either and as Hauser started to feel the bruises from the whales’ nudges and barnacles, yet ANOTHER figure emerged from the deep. At first, she thought it was the third whale, but she soon realized that it wasn’t.
As the experienced marine biologist tried to distance herself from the whales she tried to swim toward the safety of her team’s boat. Finally taking her eyes off of the whale for a moment, she got a better look at the scene and made a startling assessment.
She suddenly realized that the tail of the third aquatic animal nearby was ominously moving from side-to-side instead of up-and-down like that of a whale – it was a bad sign. Only then did she understand the true severity of the situation.
The third creature began making its way toward the free swimming biologist. As all the blood drained from her face, Nan Hauser immediately realized what the animal was and to her horror, it seemed to be heading right for her.
“So my mind quickly went, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” There was no doubt about it, as an expert on marine life, Hauser could unmistakably identify the shadowy figure as one of the most fearsome fish in the ocean – a tiger shark!
Hauser was understandably petrified, tiger sharks are one of the most deadly predators in the sea. With the potential to grow up to 25 feet long and weigh almost a ton, the tiger shark is second only to the great white shark in fatal attacks on humans.
Commonly found in the warm waters of the Pacific islands, the tiger shark is unlike the fearsome great whites that often abandon human victims after a quick bite. Instead, tiger sharks are ruthless hunters and will continue to attack their prey to no avail.
Surrounded by the unpredictable sea creatures around her, Nan Hauser was now less concerned about the intentions of the whale as she became increasingly terrified by the prospect that she could easily be the target of a vicious shark attack.
With only a few moments to spare, Hauser had to think fast. At the potential of risking everything, she did the only thing that made sense and, along with her fellow cameraman, tried to swim back toward their research boat.
Much to everyone’s relief, the two snorkelers eventually managed to escape the shark and reach the safety of their boat. As Nan Hauser approached the vessel she shouted out to the rest of crew that there was a tiger shark nearby.
Dripping wet and exhausted, Hauser managed to haul herself onto the deck of the boat where she could finally breathe a sigh of relief. As she examined her bruises sustained from the whale encounter, it suddenly dawned on her what the first humpback whale had actually been doing.
After viewing the footage of the whale encounter and reflecting on the whole ordeal, Hauser was astonished when she realized that it seemed that the humpback had actually been trying to warn her of the impending shark and get her out of harm’s way.
“Maybe the shark wasn’t going to attack me,” she said, “but he [the whale] was trying to save my life.” Hauser could hardly contain herself and knew that she’d experienced something incredibly rare, but the extraordinary account didn’t end there.
Nan Hauser was shaken, yet extremely grateful that she’d survived what could have been a treacherous outcome. As Hauser and her team continued to collect themselves aboard their boat, she couldn’t believe her eyes when the same whale that had tried to save her surfaced next to them.
Apparently checking in on her, the whale seemed to affectionately spray water out of its blowhole before it dove back down into the water and swam away. “I love you too,” Hauser called out after humpback. Even though Hauser recorded most of the ordeal, not everyone believed her.
“I’m a scientist, and if anyone told me this story, I wouldn’t believe it,” she admitted. Nan Hauser’s incredible account of the whale that had saved her from a shark made news around the world, but some scientists said that it was impossible to determine the whale’s true intentions.
However, many of those same experts acknowledged that while they couldn’t conclusively say whether such behavior was intentional, neither could they rule it out. Still, Hauser lived through the incident and is confident that her footage captured something amazing that had never (at least to her knowledge) been seen before. But that wasn’t all.
For nearly three decades, Nan Hauser has engaged in all kinds of whale research from recording population status to feeding behaviors and tracking migration. As no stranger to the matter, she believes her footage from the September 2017 encounter with the life-saving whale documented a historic event.
According to Hauser, her recordings from that fateful day captured the first-ever documentation of a humpback whale trying to protect a human from a potential threat. But that wasn’t the only miraculous finding in the aftermath of the Cook Islands whale encounter.
As news of Nan Hauser’s amazing experience with the shark and the whale traveled quickly, other fishermen and divers emerged reporting of seeing the same shark about which the humpback had tried to warn Hauser on that unforgettably frightening day.
The other alleged witnesses of the shark said they’d seen it swimming in the waters near a reef in the area and described it as being the size of a pickup truck. Hauser added that “some say that it is 20 feet long.” As Hauser thanked her lucky stars, she also had to come to terms with the reality of what had happened.
The footage that Nan Hauser and her colleague had captured of the heroic whale provided valuable material for researchers to study even though it didn’t capture the entire ordeal – like when the whale pushed her out of the water.
Still, Hauser hopes the footage of her rare meeting with the humpback whale will help other biologists gather a greater understanding of these magnificent creatures. She also hopes that her maritime run-in will also help promote awareness of another detrimental issue.
While marine biologist Nan Hauser doesn’t recommend that the average person get too close to or touch humpbacks, she does hope her work will prevent the poaching of whales and help preserve the habitats of these amazing creatures. And, really, how could it not?
“It’s funny how the tables are turned here: I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me!” she marveled. While the behavior the humpback displayed with Hauser is rare, the whale species have been known to do something unimaginable with other animals.
For centuries, there have been innumerable reports of benevolent dolphins behaving in a way that seemed to have to protect, warn or save humans of impending danger. But such interactions with mankind are essentially unheard of when it comes to whales.
While Nan Hauser may have some of the only recorded footage of such whale behavior with human beings, there does exist amazing scientific research that points to the extraordinary behavioral traits of humpbacks when it comes to protecting others animals.
Humpback whales migrate to the waters of the South Pacific to breed and rear their young during the austral winter. As a species, humpbacks tend to band together in packs especially when protecting their young. Keeping that in mind, it’s not unusual that the second whale was in the area during Hauser’s experience.
Humpbacks were once poached to the brink of extinction, but their numbers are now on the rise. To help ensure the continuation of their species, the whales are known to band together to protect their young, but what about when it comes to protecting other species?
Humpback whales are omnivores and don’t intentionally prey on other animals. In fact, they are known as protectors of the ocean and have frequently demonstrated protective behavior toward other species of whales, seals and dolphins in the face of threatening predators.
“There is a published scientific paper about humpbacks protecting other species of animals, by Robert Pitman,” Nan Hauser explained. “For instance, they hide seals under their pectoral fins to protect them from killer whales.” But why do they do this?
A study in 2016 found 115 recorded instances from the past 62 years in which humpback whales intervened in attacks to save their calves and other species. While humans might associate such behavior as compassion, scientists prefer the term “altruism.”
Although people are tempted to associate animals behavior with human attributes, Hauser even has even said: “I tried a lot not to anthropomorphize any of the behavior that I see.” But having had three cameras with three different angles capture her whale encounter, she thinks there’s ample evidence of whale altruism. But it doesn’t end there.
Perhaps the whale thought Hauser in her wetsuit was a seal or perhaps it had associated her with a baby whale, but either way, Nan Hauser says whales “truly display altruism – sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives.”
She added that humpbacks are known to hide other animals under their fins to protect them from marine predators. While scientists are split on what to make of this animal behavior, it is believed that it’s actually born from something you may not expect.
While the kind of whale behavior toward other species that Hauser experienced is not completely understood, theories suggest it could be born from memories of whales protecting their offspring or fending off personal attacks from predators – a sort of instinctual reaction.
They could even be instinctively responding to distress signals they sense from other species or it could be intuitive nature to protect. Although the evidence seems to be inconclusive, one thing is for sure – Hauer’s brush with the whales and the shark is truly unforgettable!
But, this isn’t the only incredible case of ocean animals saving humans. Read on for more!
British swimmer Adam Walker was already accustomed to the challenges of long-distance, open water routes by the time he decided to make the grueling voyage across New Zealand’s Cook Strait in 2014. The swim between New Zealand’s’ North and South Islands was to be his sixth leg in the Ocean Seven marathon swimming challenge.
The open water swimming challenge consists of seven of the toughest channel swims around the world. While the frigid temperatures and draining exhaustion were expected, there was something else that Walker never in his life guessed would occur during the 16-mile swim.
Adam Walker’s enthusiasm for swimming straights in the open seas started in 2008. In 2011, the Nottingham, Britain native swam the Strait of Gibraltar and became the first Briton to swim from Spain to Morocco and back. After taking on the North Channel between north-eastern Ireland and south-western Scotland, he was ready to give the New Zealand waterway a try.
Walker had originally dreamed of becoming a professional rugby play or cricketer, but a recurrent knee injury dashed those plans for him. Instead, he took up competitive swimming. However, it wouldn’t just be swimming long stretches in unpredictable ocean waters that would be his claim to fame.
During his training a long-distance ocean swims before the Cook Strait, Walker had experienced several brushes with fate that nearly left his life in the balance. Having suffered a debilitating sting by a Portuguese man o’ war and barely escaping a near-death bout of hypothermia, Walker thought he’d been through everything by the time he arrived in New Zealand.
As the British sportsman – who was raising funds for the nonprofit organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation through his swimming – embarked upon his latest venture he was immediately met by rolling wave and strong currents. But that wasn’t all.
The freezing ocean waters were relentless, but Adam Walker forged ahead wearing just swimming trunks, goggles and a swimming cap. He’d had more than an eight-hour swim until he’d reach his destination, yet Walker made gains with every long stroke.
Walker had worked in his training to channel pain and discomfort from his mind with positive thoughts, but this started to go downhill after about two hours of swimming in the sea. After having some sports drink he turned his head into a wave and swallowed a mouthful of seawater that instantly made him sick. But the fatigue that followed wasn’t the worst thing he’d encounter.
Walker wouldn’t allow the sudden drop in his energy levels to overcome him nor did he want to inform his team boat escorting him that anything was wrong and risk the possibility of being disqualified if they urged him to exit the water. But his concerns soon shifted to something much more ominous.
As the British swimmer looked beneath him, he was stunned to spot a shadowy figure that he recognized as a great white shark swimming below. He estimated that the shark was at least six feet long. Fatigued and now growing increasingly worried about a possible attack, he couldn’t believe his eyes when more fins popped up around him.
A pod of about 10 dolphins had appeared out of nowhere. Adam Walker was amazed by what he described as the “beyond magical” sighting as he stroked. The dolphins further astonished him as they swam in a diamond formation around him.
The swimmer was careful not to touch the aquatic mammals although they seemed friendly and playful, curiously coming within touching distance of him. The dolphins flipped and somersaulted out of the choppy waters and stayed close to Walker, with one even brushing him with its tail. But the enchanting encounter didn’t end there.
Walker’s mentor, legendary New Zealand swimmer Philip Rush (who’d made the swim EIGHT times), had told his protege not worry about sharks before crossing the straight. And although Walker told himself that the likelihood of a shark attack was low, he was more than grateful that the dolphins had joined him.
Incredibly, the pod of dolphins didn’t leave Walker’s side for about an hour. They even stayed with him as he stopped for another drink and only swam off once he had finished. Neither Walker nor his team on the boat could believe what had happened, but there are a few amazing explanations.
Dolphins have been known to attack sharks in order to protect themselves and their young. There have also been shocking reports dating back to 2,000 years ago of the highly intelligent animals ‘saving’ human beings from drowning and shark attacks.
While it unclear for sure whether the dolphins were actively trying to protect Walker or simply trying to join in the fun, the British swimmer said the experience was a dream come true. His first-hand account of the event, though, seems pretty convincing.
After a draining eight hours and 36 minutes of swimming nonstop, Adam Walker successfully crossed Cook Strait. Grateful to have survived the taxing experience, he took to social media to share the touching experience that had completely blown him away.
“I’d like to think they were protecting me and guiding me home!!! This swim will stay with me forever,” he wrote on Facebook. Additionally, Walker told a New Zealand outlet: “It would be a nice thought they were thinking, we will just help our pal get through.” And perhaps thanks in part to the dolphins, Walker went on to make a new record.
Whether or not the dolphins that joined Adam Walker scared away the shark, either way, it seems they did help boost his morale and give him renewed energy to complete his trying swim. And luckily they did as Walker went on to become the first Briton to complete the Seven Oceans challenge.
Although he’s finished the seven-part marathon swimming feat, he’s not planning to hang up his towel quite yet. “It would be so wrong for me to do all this and then go to ground,” he had said. “I need to educate people about the benefits of this sport. It’s done so much for me.”
Source: National Geographic, The Daily Mirror