Humpback Whale “Saves” Marine Biologist From Tiger Shark

Fagjun | Published 2018-01-15 14:06

Video footage shows a humpback whale seemingly pushing marine biologist Nan Hauser away from an approaching tiger shark and into safety.

The whale nudged and pushed Nan Hauser out of danger [Photo by Nan Hauser/Caters]

The whale nudged and pushed Nan Hauser out of danger [Photo by Nan Hauser/Caters]


There’s a growing body of evidence that whales are awesome creatures. This particular encounter between a humpback and a marine biologist that may have been in danger of a shark attack is another instance wherein whales show an amazing affinity for those not of their own species.


Hauser, 63, has been studying whales for 28 years, researching them and sharing their waters with them. In spite of her long career centered around whales, however, her experience last September was certainly unique. A humpback approached her and began nudging her forward with its mouth, as well as tucking her under its pectoral fin. Hauser feared for her life, thinking that the whale might crush her bones and uncertain of what the whale meant to do. However, it’s possible that the whale was saving her life instead of threatening it.

Underwater Saviors


Watch Hauser's encounter with the marine giant [Video by Nan Hauser/Caters Clips]


Hauser was swimming in the waters around Cook Islands, working on a film. Because of this, her encounter with the whale was recorded by cameras. The footage from Hauser’s camera, which showed her own point of view, showed how persistent the whale was in its interaction with her. There was also a second whale behind the first.


Eventually, Hauser made it onto her boat, none the worse for wear aside from minor injuries inflicted by the barnacles on the whale. It was when she got on the boat that Hauser noticed a third tail swishing around underwater—a tail she immediately identified as belonging to a tiger shark. Upon reviewing the footage, Hauser realized that the whale might have been nudging her away from the tiger shark and into safer waters.


“I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales,” Hauser said, “and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me.”


Whales have been observed to display altruistic behavior similar to what Hauser experienced. In 2009, biologist Robert Pitman photographed a humpback protecting a Weddell seal from a pack of hungry orcas by raising the seal over the surface of the water. Pitman also witnessed two humpbacks driving away orcas that had gathered around a lone seal stuck on an ice floe.

Instinct or Altruism?

What prompted the humpback whales to behave that way toward Hauser? [Photo by Nan Hauser/Caters]

What prompted the humpback whales to behave that way toward Hauser? [Photo by Nan Hauser/Caters]


It’s possible that humpback whales’ instinct to protect others from predators may stem from the instinct to protect their own young. Humpbacks are also hardly in any danger from orcas, being much larger than the infamous predators. Thus, fighting orcas off or intervening in situations in which a predator is pursuing prey may well be worth it for the whales. Hauser also later learned that while the first whale was nudging her away, the other one behind it seemed to be swatting away at the shark in an effort to drive it away.


Of course, at this point, we can only guess at the true intentions behind the whales’ actions. Were the whales truly being altruistic, were they simply acting on instinct, or was it all just an accident? Hauser believes that the whales did mean to keep her safe from a hungry tiger shark, and they very well may have been.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!