It's common knowledge that whales are some of the most intelligent mammals in the ocean, but this breath-taking footage of a giant humpback protecting a diver from a shark proves they may be more like us than we ever thought possible.
Nan Hauser said she didn't understand the actions of the 25-ton whale that she met face-to-face in the Cook Islands.
"A simple behavioral rule like "interfere with attacking killer whales" may prevent a related calf from being killed", Pitman previously told Live Science, "and it may also help out other species at times".
While she did not notice the shark at first as her attention was firmly on the "tactile" whale, she said: "Other fishermen and divers have seen this same shark nearby the reef and say that it is as big as a pickup truck".
Hauser says that the encounter could be evidence that whales are altruistic animals that feel compelled to save smaller creatures. While only about a dozen out of 375 identified shark species are considered to be risky, the three species responsible for the most human attacks are the great white shark, the bull shark and, you guessed it, the tiger shark.
Hauser thinks it's likely that the whale that head-butted her was similarly trying to protect her from the predator in their midst (she later learned that, while one humpback was focused on her, another was swatting the water near the tiger shark, seemingly keeping it at bay). "I was a bit bruised up", she said. The whale can be seen in the below video tucking her underneath its pectoral fin, although the shark is never clearly visible in the footage.
According to her, the whale pushed her with his head and mouth, tucked her under its giant pectoral fin for around 10 minutes and even lifted her out of the water on one occasion. After her encounter, she said she swam back to her boat and the whale surfaced nearby as if to check on her. In 2009, a humpback whale hoisted a seal out of the water to protect it from oncoming orcas. After 28 years of research, she has in fact shown this to be true through an incredible video that was shot while she was snorkeling for research in the Cook Islands.
"[Humpback whales] truly display altruism - sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives", she continued.
"I never touch the whales that I study unless they are sick or stranded on the beach, she said".
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