When a whale saves your life – and the two of you meet again later.
Whale hello there. Nice to see you again! Photo: rjshade
“I knew there was a chance I could easily be killed by this whale,” marine biologist Nan Hauser says in an interview with BBC Earth while recollecting her shocking once-in-a-lifetime (per 1 billion people) experience involving a humpback whale and a tiger shark.
Being protected by a whale might sound reassuring, but being extremely up close with an overprotective whale can be actually quite scary. Now that’s exactly what happened to Hauser off Rarotonga in the Cook Islands while filming on location, IFLScience reports. She was swimming towards two humpback whales when, all of a sudden, one charged at her.
We often think of whales as gentle giants, which is generally true, but we shouldn’t forget that they are extremely powerful animals whose fins are lined with razor-sharp barnacles. So, being hugged by one could be logistically complex if you don’t wish to be end up in pieces. And in the case of Hauser, the whale seemed more than determined to tuck her under its pectoral fin.
Things only got even scarier as the humpback whale hoisted Hauser out of the water on its back, refusing to let her get away. As the scientist was getting a better glimpse into what is happening, the whale’s bizarre behavior finally started to make sense.
Emerging in the horizon were what looked like two whales, one of them smacking its tail against the water. Oh, wait that’s rather peculiar for a whale…
Surely, that second whale was moving peculiarly, with its pectoral fins tucked in and its tail swishing side to side instead of up and down. Well, what if it isn’t a whale after all? It was right at this point that Hauser realized she was looking at the biggest tiger shark she’d ever seen.
“I’ve spent my entire life underwater and I’ve seen plenty of tiger sharks,” she explained. “This was like a truck. This was a huge tiger shark and it was coming right for me.”
Hauser believes that the reason why the whale was trying to get her under its fin was to protect her. That seems to be confirmed by the fact that the animal got her on its back and ferried her back to the boat.
“I still to this day can’t believe it happened and being a scientist it’s even harder,” she said. “If someone told me this story, I wouldn’t believe them.”
Now, here’s her telling the entire story:
Indeed, humpback whales are known to exhibit altruism, a behavioral trait where you do something for another individual that in no way benefits you. And this a perfect example of a whale putting itself in the firing line to protect a human. That whale actually behaved like a hero.
Amazingly, Hauser got to be reunited with her rescuer once again. One year and 15 days after the event, she was radioed that a whale had swum into the area, and after boating out to see it Hauser recognized its tail fluke had two notches on it, just like the one that saved her life.
“And then next I knew the whale came up next to the side of the boat,” said Hauser. “He ignored everyone else on the boat and he stared directly at me… I looked at him and I saw a scar on his head and I just screamed ‘he’s back I can’t believe it he’s back!’ and sure enough there he was.”
Are you with me? Photo: Christopher Michel
“I just whipped on my wetskin and slid [into the] water and I swam down next to him and he opened his eyes and he just looked at me and kept nudging me… It was like seeing your dog that you haven’t seen in six months.”
Well, at 27-33 tons, that’s one hell of a cuddle.
Hauser hopes to see her cetacean pal again so she is staying in Rarotonga area.
“I miss him,” she said. “I mean, who misses a whale?”