In an over-whale-ming show of protection, a 50,000-pound humpback whale shielded a snorkeler from a tiger shark.
Biologist Nan Hauser captured the entire scene as it unfolded in the waters off the Cook Islands. Throughout the video, you can see the whale tucking the snorkeler under his pectoral fin and pushing Hauser with his massive head. It wasn’t until later that the biologist realized a tiger shark was shadowing her in the background.
“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,” Hauser told The Mirror.
Altruistic and protective behavior from whales to other species is well documented. Marine biologist Robert Pitman has spent years studying how and why humpbacks protect seals, sea lions, and porpoises from “killer” whales. Check out DPG's interview with Pitman about the role underwater photography plays in NOAA’s marine mammal research.
Theories behind the behavior include revenge against orcas for having previously killed young humpback whales. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with this incredible incident in the Cook Islands. Could the simplest explanation be that the whales feel an inherent duty to protect their fellow mammals?
“They truly display altruism,” Hauser said. “Sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives.”
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