Animals are incredibly intelligent and instinctual beings, and people spend their lives studying them to try and figure out what they’re capable of and why they do what they do.
After decades studying humpback whales, a marine biologist thought she knew everything about the massive creatures. However, during a routine afternoon out in the water, she experienced something that she never thought was possible…
A Life Calling
For the past 28 years, 63-year-old Nan Hauser has dedicated her life to observing, learning, and protecting humpback whales. From July to October, Nan spends every single day of those 4 months out on the water with the magnificent animals.
A Demanding Schedule
Nan and her team spend a minimum of 8 hours each day on the water of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific watching the whales from a safe distance, collecting samples, and recording as many whale songs as possible to try and understand 1 of the biggest animals in the ocean…
No Time To Waste
“You can’t take a day off because the whales don’t take a day off,” Nan explained. “For 4 months you’re on the water all the time- you’ve got to be; otherwise your data set is incomplete. The payback is the whales. There’s nothing better than being next to whales from morning to night.”
“For me, the most meaningful part of my life is exchanging an eye-to-eye glance with a whale,” added Nan, who spends the other months of the year mostly on land reviewing all the data they captured that year, writing scientific papers, tutoring marine biology students, and lecturing at universities around the world…
As if that wasn’t enough, Nan is also the president of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation and tries to spread awareness about the conservation and harassment of whales through her papers and by appearing on TV programs aired on Animal Planet, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel.
The 2017 Season
While all that work is important and rewarding for Nan, it pales in comparison to actually being out on the water with the whales. So when July 2017 came along and Nan got the call that the first Whale of the season had been spotted off the Cook Islands, she was thrilled to get and onto the boat and into the water…
The Final Weeks
For the next 4 months, Nan and her team spent every day working just like they do every other whale season, and had successfully managed to capture recordings and take countless samples. By October, the team was getting ready for the end of the season.
A Dangerous Job
However, during 1 afternoon out diving in the water that October in 2017, Nan had an extraordinary encounter with a humpback whale. At the time, she believed it was going to be her last. “I’ve always said I’d be killed by a whale,” Nan explained…
That day, Nan got in the water and started swimming toward a humpback whale that was in the area. The 63-year-old, who was being followed by a camera crew for a documentary that day, knew to keep a safe distance from the 25-ton creature.
A Close Encounter
Even though humpback whales aren’t usually aggressive, their sheer size and strength can be deadly to humans if they accidentally get bumped or hit. So when the whale swam towards Nan and started to nudge her with its head, she was stunned by what was happening…
10 Minutes Of Terror
The whale started nudging Nan and pushing her through the water and wouldn’t stop. “I wasn’t sure what the whale was up to when he approached me, and it didn’t stop pushing me around for over 10 minutes. It seemed like hours,” Nan said about the extremely unusual encounter.
An Ironic Realization
“I never touch the whales that I study unless they are sick or stranded on the beach,” Nan added. “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…”
“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. 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. If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned,” Nan said.
The 63-year-old had never experienced anything like it, but she knew the whale would be able to sense her fear if she started to panic so she tried to stay as calm as possible. “I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter. I feel a very close kinship with animals, so despite my trepidation, I tried to stay calm and figure out how to get away from him…”
No Way To Help
Meanwhile, the rest of the team and the camera crews were watching from the safety of their boats nearby. As incredible as it was to be so close to the whale, they were horrified because they couldn’t do anything to save Nan from being killed by the creature.
Nan’s Final Moments
With no way to help, the team turned the drone off that they had been using to film Nan because they didn’t want to have footage of her being mauled. However, the whale never started to attack. “His eye was so wide, I was just waiting to get whacked,” said Nan. “But it was clear it was trying to communicate something…”
10 Minutes Later
For those 10 minutes, the whale kept pushing and guiding Nan through the water. She didn’t realize it at first, but it was bringing her closer to the boat. “It was trying to be gentle, but this is a 50,000-pound mammal,” said Nan. When she was close enough, Nan took her eyes off the whale for the first time to swim carefully to the boat.
The Real Threat
When Nan turned toward the boat, she finally realized that the whale wasn’t trying to attack her, but protect her from a massive 15-foot tiger shark, 1 of the most aggressive kinds of sharks known to attack humans. “I never took my eyes off him which is why I didn’t see the shark right away.” After climbing onto the boat, the whale came to the surface 1 more time. “It was checking on me, making sure I was safe…”
Protecting Their Protector
“I was a bit bruised up,” said Nan, who was grateful she walked away with bruises since both the whale and the tiger shark could have easily killed her. “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,” she added. “I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me.”
An Unbelievable Story
Humpback whales are known to exhibit altruistic behavior and protect smaller animals like seals from predators, but in the almost 3 decades of her research, Nan has never heard of 1 protecting a human. While Nan is sure the whale saved her life and was protecting her from the massive predator, other scientists are having a hard time believing it. “I’m a scientist, and if anyone told me this story, I wouldn’t believe it,” Nan said in response to critics.