We often hear about how dangerous sea mammals can be, and of course, never wish to even come close to a humpback whale due to the possible dangers. Nan Hauser had been studying these creatures for the past three decades and had extensive knowledge about them to know never to be too close. As Nan Hauser recalls her experience, her story becomes more and more heart-wrenching. It would have been anyone’s guess that Nan would never have survived such an ordeal, nor would her experience happen to anyone else. However, on one particular day, she came up close and personal with a humpback whale, deep in the Pacific Ocean that changed her life.
An Unexpected Encounter
For a large portion of her life, marine biologist, Nan Hauser, has researched and monitored ocean life. She has mainly focused on whales and dolphins and, for 28 years, she has taken part in countless dives and risky aquatic expeditions in the Cook Islands and the Bahamas.
Hauser has focused on helping turn the South Pacific into a safe haven for whales over the past three decades, but a recent dive of hers introduced an alarming encounter, something Hauser had never experienced before.
Exploring The Islands
As one of the world’s leading whale experts, Hauser has been featured countless times on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. She resides in Rarotonga, the largest island among the Cook Islands, and has spent most of her time there studying ocean life.
The Cook Islands is 15 small islands which house 21 species of dolphins and whales, 16 types of sharks, and 600 fish species. On one ordinary day, Hauser anchored her speedboat into the waters to begin just another exploration.
Emerging From The Deep
Things turned strange as soon as Hauser entered the water and noticed a gigantic figure heading her way. In a blink of an eye, the creature rapidly approached her, and Hauser quickly recognized exactly what it was – a humpback whale, one that can grow to a massive 40 tons and measure up to 60 feet long.
Hauser estimated that this exact humpback was about 50,000 pounds but, even with her expertise, she could have never guessed what this enormous creature was about to do.
Unafraid Of The Sea
Hauser is no stranger to diving with colossal sea mammals and, having monitored many through her studies, she is familiar with many of her encounters. Despite all of her knowledge, however, she never expected to encounter this specific type of whale.
Nevertheless, when Hauser did, she already had a great understanding of sea mammals, and she knew to be careful and not to alarm or upset it. When the humpback surfaced for air and got closer to Hauser, however, she began to panic.
A Sinking Feeling
As the whale was getting closer, Hauser had no intention of contact or interacting with the colossal mammal. Speaking to NPR, she said, “Instead of swimming past me, he came right toward me and he didn’t stop coming towards me until I was on his head…”
With only a snorkel and a camera at the time, Hauser was in no way prepared for her next moments. Before having a moment to take it all in, she found herself on top of the whale’s head!
Having spent most of her life as an experienced marine biologist, Nan Hauser always has the animal’s interests best in mind in any situation. She is cautious not to touch her whale subjects in salty waters unless they fall ill or become stranded on shore.
On this particular day, however, the whale had initiated contact with Nan. Speaking of her encounter, she recalled, “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…”
Fearing For Her Life
The whale became irritated and nudged Nan several times. It was then that the humpback had tucked her under its fin, leaving Nan to do nothing but hold on for her life as the whale lifted her to the surface of the water.
Hauser is the leader of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, so is usually unafraid of mammals of this size. On this particular day, however, her fears changed completely, and Nan was left fearing for her life in these unexpected moments.
Preparing For The Worst
These fearful moments continued for another ten minutes as the whale continued to push Hauser around with its mouth. To the helpless marine biologist, these ten minutes felt like hours, and she feared the worst.
“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. If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned,” she explained.
Keeping Her Cool
Recalling her experience, Hauser said, “I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear.” Although over the years Hauser has felt a close connection to sea animals, this was the first time she experienced an unusual intimidation by the creature.
Meanwhile, Nan managed tried to stay calm as best she could so she could figure out what to do next. “I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter…” she admitted.
Caught On Film
Hauser’s team was at the site during the time of the incident, but there was nothing they could do to save her during her encounter with a 25-ton whale. Feeling helpless, they just began to pray that she made it out alive.
During this time, meanwhile, Nan and a fellow cameraman were recording the dive and managed to capture extraordinary footage. Meanwhile, Hauser’s escort was new to filming sea creatures, so was not fully aware of how strange this whale’s behavior was.
Hauser’s crew abandoned aerial drone footage they’d been shooting once they understood the severity of the situation Hauser was currently in since they did not want to film her death.
Meanwhile, Hauser was busy trying to defuse the situation by keeping eye contact with the whale for as long as she could. However, she started to realize that her chances of survival were slowly diminishing as the humpback whale pushed her further away from her research vessel. Focusing on her problem at hand, Nan was unaware of something lurking nearby.
Three’s A Crowd
Before Nan gave up completely, she spotted another whale in the distance. Similarly, this whale was also demonstrating strange behavior and continuously slapping its tail against the surface of the water.
Nan began to feel the sensation of bruises developing from this whale’s aggressive nudges when another shadow emerged from the deep waters. At first, Nan believed this was a third whale that she would have to encounter but, fortunately, she soon she realized this was not the case at all…
Traveling In Packs
During the winter months, it is known that humpbacks migrate to the waters of the South Pacific to breed and rear their offspring. The gigantic mammals travel in packs, especially when they wish to protect their babies and, therefore, it was not unusual for there to be the second whale during Nan’s experience.
In recent years, humpbacks were close to becoming extinct before strict protective laws and spreading awareness protected them. This has resulted in their numbers slowly rising instead.
No Whale’s Tail
Believing the large sea creatures surrounded her, Hauser tried to distance herself as much as possible and swim out to safety. It was only when she looked away from the first whale did she get a huge surprise.
Hauser saw that the third creature was moving its tail fin from side to side, rather than up and down like a whale. It was at this moment that Hauser realized what she was observing was not a whale of any kind, but rather, the third tail belonged to something else entirely.
A Fearsome Creature
Hauser froze when the third creature started heading towards her and realized it was too late to escape when she discovered what the animal really was. To Hauser, the animal was on its way to get her, and she felt nothing but horror inside of her.
“So my mind quickly went, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” she recalled, as she noticed one of the ocean’s most dangerous creatures. As an expert on marine life, there was no mistaking that the shadowy figure was, in fact, a tiger shark.
Hauser is well aware that tiger sharks are one of the sea’s most deadly predators and had every reason to be terrified. Tiger sharks can grow up to 35 feet long, weigh almost a ton, and are known for their fateful attacks on humans.
The deadly creatures are often found in warm waters of the Pacific Islands and have a stark difference to white sharks. Unlike the great white shark, a tiger shark will attack its victim to no avail, rather than bite them and quickly abandon them.
A Deadly Dilemma
As soon as Nan realized what she was seeing, she was no longer concerned about the intentions of the whales surrounding her. Rather, she was focusing on the fact that she was a target of a potential shark attack and she had to think fast to escape the situation she was in.
In a moment of risking her life and saving it at the same time, she did what made the most sense at that moment. Together with her cameraman, they began to swim towards the research boat.
An Incredible Epiphany
Both Hauser and her cameraman made it to the boat alive, which brought relief to many. After arriving back safely, she warned the rest of her team that there was a tiger shark in the area but then laid on the floor of the boat following the traumatic event which took place moments earlier.
While lying down, soaking wet, Hauser began examining the bruises on her body, and soon came to an amazing realization. From these bruises, she realized what the first humpback whale was trying to do.
Protectors Of The Sea
Since humpback whales are omnivores, they commonly don’t prey on other animals intentionally. Humpback whales are actually considered to be the protectors of the sea and have demonstrated this behavior towards other whales, dolphins, and seals whenever there is a sense of danger around.
“There is a published scientific paper about humpbacks protecting other species of animals, by Robert Pitman,” Nan explained. “For instance, they hide seals under their pectoral fins to protect them from killer whales.” Knowing this, Nan started to make sense of it all.
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