Humpback Whale Swims Right At Her and Pins Her Down – Then She Notices Something

Whale-watching brings much serenity to those who do it and continues to mystify and enchant people the world over. Some aspects of these mammals’ behavior can be very special, and even humbling. One harrowing moment in the South Pacific proved just how much the scientific community is yet to still discover. When marine biologist and conservationist Nan Hauser encountered a male humpback whale off the Cook Islands, it did something so utterly unexpected and unprecedented that it completely shocked her, and changed all previous knowledge about whale behavior. It really made the scientific world think twice about humpback whales’ behavior.

A Life’s Passion

Nan Hauser (63) is a qualified marine biologist and researcher and had made studying and rescuing whales into her life’s passion. She’s lived in Maine, for the past 28 years and had traveled across the globe in her mission to document them, and to fight for their rights and protection. So, swimming with them just came naturally.

But no matter how many times she had been in the deep blue with these gentle beasts, nothing could have prepared her for what happened one day while out on a swim.

The Cook Islands

Nan was living in the South Pacific Islands in Rarotonga. Through her career and passion for whales, Nan managed to successfully turn the entirety of the Cook Islands territorial waters — all 772,200 square miles of them — into a whale sanctuary.


Nan actually was the founder of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation on Rarotonga. Back in 2001 the Cook islands officially declared that the boundaries of their whale sanctuary would extend up to 200 nautical miles from shore. If whales could only speak they would thank Nan but there was a single humpback whale that caught her off guard.

Next: She thought it would be an ordinary day

A Swim Like Any Other

So, one day, Nan was swimming off the shore of Rarotonga one day in September 2017. Right nearby there was a research vessel with some of her colleagues who were tracking her course. She had her underwater camera with her.


While she was swimming Nan saw a male humpback whale. He was really big, weighing upwards of 23 tons. He was 50 feet long and a very large adult humpback whale. The strange thing was his behavior was very unusual and he was coming straight for her.

Not Sure What Was Going On

In the wild, Nan was used to usually approaching whales so that she could examine them. But on this day, for a reason unbeknownst to her, the whale was swimming directly for her.


This was a gigantic humpback whale and it was swimming her way and she couldn’t move from his path. She filmed all this as he approached. She wasn’t too scared or worried but wondered whether she should be concerned.

Next: Strange behavior

Odd Behavior

She had never witnessed this behavior in all her life of swimming with whales. Part of what she did every day was swimming with whales but the behavior of this particular whale bewildered her.

Mother Nature Network

What in fact happened was the whale went straight for Nan and wouldn’t get out of her way. He actually rammed into her, and she was pinned to his head.

The Struggle Began

The whale kept pushing and ramming into her. She tried to get out of his path but it was no use. She was at his mercy. Her heart started pounding. Nothing like this had ever happened to her.

Daily Mirror

The whale obviously was unaware of his brute strength being so large and heavy and he could have easily killed Nan.

Next: Safety comes first

The Harsh Force

At this point, Nan didn’t know what to do. She tried to understand why he was doing what he was doing but she just couldn’t figure it out.


She knew that if this whale pushed too hard into her, he could break her bones or damage her internal organs. It was a good thing that Nan was in pretty good shape physically due to her swimming in the deep blue for so long.

Trying To Keep Safe

Nan knew that while she was being pinned down, she had to make sure she wasn’t too close to the whale’s flippers or tail as these were the most dangerous parts of his body for her to get close to.

Huffpost UK

Though humpback whales are not renowned for any sort of aggression, just one smack from the flippers or tail in the wrong direction and with the right amount of force could have knocked her out and left her to drown. Nan was trying her hardest not to panic. But she had an idea.

Next: Staying Alive

Thinking Fast

Humpback whales don’t have sharp teeth and eat by filtering through the baleen, or thee filter-feeder system in their mouths, Nan knew she was physically in a position she had to get out of – very fast.


Nan knew whales long enough to know that they can sense fear so she had to keep her cool yet act very fast.

Keeping Calm and Still

Nan often joked that although huge whales didn’t frighten her, she was absolutely terrified tiny little spiders. Although she had said this, she never expected something like this to happen and the whole experience was incredibly scary.

Adventure Sports Network

Nan kept eye contact as much as possible. Normally she hadn’t done this with her years of experience but if anything changed in which the Whale was carrying itself, she could have been killed.

Next: Just too fast

Like Trying to Stop a Moving Train

As whales were Nan’s passion and she had been swimming with them most of her life, Nan documented this whole experience on camera knowing it could be filming her own death.


The scary thing is that the crew could see exactly what was happening but couldn’t do anything. All they could do was watch as Nan got bumped around by this giant humpback whale.

Not Alone Down Under

Nan actually wasn’t alone submerged in water. There was another diver who could see everything that was going on but could do nothing.


Even though there was another diver, this diver was not as experienced as her and didn’t actually know there was something really wrong.

Next: Staying strong

Not Giving Up

The giant humpback whale just carried on pushing Nan further away from her research vessel, taking her far out into the distance. Again, nothing like this had ever happened to Nan.


This humpback whale was not giving up. He kept on pushing her. He kept her close to his body and didn’t let her out of his sight. After some time like this, Nan saw another huge body up in the water. It looks like there was a company.

Cetacean Squad

Nan saw another humpback whale above her. It wasn’t like the previous whale though as it was keeping its space and distance from them. The fact that there was another humpback whale in the area was not rare nor unusual.

Live Science

Humpback whales like to socialize and swim as a group in pods. But something strange was going on like this other whale while keeping its distance, was also behaving erratically but she could not yet see why.

Next: Getting bruised

Slap Happy

Though Nan was making her best efforts to get away from the first humpback whale, the second whale was still there slapping its tail continuously on the water’s surface. It then lashed out at something behind it, another object in the ocean.


Nan noticed with her many years of experience that both the whales were acting very abnormally. Both these wales were highly agitated. It was obvious something was very wrong – it turns out they were not alone in the water.


At this point, Nan was bruised from the whole experience and the rough barnacles that were clinging to the skin of the whale were scraping her consistently as she moved passed it. Clearly, there was a lot of discomforts here.

The Portland Press Herald

This entire time the whale had not left her alone for a second and quite some time had passed already. It was only when Nan saw the behavior of the second whale that Nan realized there was danger lurking ahead.

Next: The danger revealed

Topsy Turvy

Suddenly, everything made sense as things fell into place. The whale had kept her under his pectoral fin, bounced her onto his back, under his stomach, and even on his head, lifting her out of the water. It had all been on purpose, but now she saw why.

The Portland Press Herald

The New York Post

As soon as she finally understood what was bothering the humpback whales, she knew she had to get away really quick! Unfortunately, the large humpback male was not having it and did not let her swim freely.  If she had been in danger of accidentally being harmed before, now the threat level was skyrocketing.

Apex Predator

Nan finally saw the danger that was lurking there all the time. Behind the second whale was every diver’s biggest horror story: a tiger shark – a 15 plus foot long tiger shark. Nan and the other diver were in extreme danger at this point.

The Portland Press Herald

National Geographic

People know the tiger shark is a man-eater. Their teeth are smaller than a great white, they are able to slice more easily through shell, flesh as well as bone. Nan knew now that the whales had been trying to protect her from the shark. She had good reason to fear for her life.

Next: Shark Attacks

A Giant Danger

Usually, people think of a shark attack the image of a great white shark automatically comes to mind. But, the thing with great whites is that when they attack, they attack once – they take a huge bite and then leave.


Tiger sharks, on the other hand, tend to be more vicious. Once they take a bite they continue to attack their prey ruthlessly. Right now, Nan and her partner were in the same vicinity as this predator. Nan swam was as hard as possible to get away from the giant humpback whale’s embrace and dashed for the boat.

Getting Back on Top

Thank goodness, Nan and her dive partner were able to get out of danger just in time. When Nan got to the boat, gasping for air now she opened her mouth and warned everyone of the looming danger close by.


Instead of being terrified she was actually very excited. She finally understood what had taken place. She watched the footage on camera and then looked back in the water and realized they had been followed.

Next: Giving thanks

Making Sure She Was Ok

The male humpback was a true hero and a loyal friend. He checked up to make sure that Nan was out of harm’s way. He then shot a jet spray out of his blowhole. In an instant, Nan had forgiven for all that had taken place.


She knew that he had just tried to keep her safe – and he succeeded! She sat at the edge of the boat and looked at him lovingly and told him that she loved him.

Figuring Things Out

Nan watched the footage which had been taken from three different angles. Of course, she now knew why the humpback whale had behaved so strangely. She had proof of everything now.

National Geographic

According to Nan’s theory, the whale had gone out of its way to keep her close to him. He protected her by shielding her under, on top or behind his fin. Surprisingly, this was not an isolated incident.

Next: Protecting from Danger

Huge Protectors

There are actually is a massive list of recorded instances where humpback whales went out of their way to shield other mammals from very dangerous threats of predators.

Marine Science Today

In fact, in 2016 there was a study that gathered a whopping 115 documented instances, stretching back over 62 years, where humpback whales actively intervened so that they could rescue not only their own calves but other species, such as smaller dolphins or seals. But nonetheless, there was something drastically unique about Nan’s experience.

A First Time Case

Scientists were very familiar with the behavior of humpback whales protecting mammals. There was a documented case where a humpback whale even flung a seal out of the water so that it would be saved from killer whales. The only thing is, what happened to Nan was the first-time case.

India Times

If Nan’s theory was right, and the humpback whale had really been pushing her along so that she could be safe, then this was the first documented instance of a humpback whale rescuing a human. Despite all that had happened, there were people that still criticized her theory.

Next: When science is not so sure

A Divided Scientific Community

Obviously, this was big news in the marine world. With it, there were many skeptics. Many said that it was impossible to know exactly what the whale’s true intentions were. According to them, the whale could have had other intentions and perhaps the shark was just there.


It didn’t really bother Nan as she had visual proof. What other explanation could be given anyway for the way that the humpback whale had acted.

Live Documentation

Luckily for Nan, absolutely everything that had happened that day in September 2017 had been recorded on film both from the cameras belonging to her and her fellow diver, their nearby research vessel and their drone. There was proof for everything.

The Royal Gazette

Although there were skeptics, it didn’t bother Nan in the least. Nan’s footage gave valuable information regarding cetacean behavior. She even created her own term for this phenomenon.

Next: Compassion and Altruism

Animal Altruism

Nan is careful to call the whale’s behavior “altruism”. She pays close attention to the phrasing used in codifying animal behavior. While the casual observer might be inclined to call the male humpback’s actions “compassion”, she wants to discourage people from associating human traits and attributes to whales.

Tropix Traveler

There is a discrepancy between altruism and compassion, in that the leading force that guides animals to act in certain ways is different in the two scenarios. Other marine biologists have hypothesized as to the reason behind humpback whales going out of their way to protect other species.

Compassion vs. Altruism

There is a marine ecologist called Robert Pitman and he has explained the motivating factors guiding compassionate behavior vs. altruistic behavior. He noted that humans protecting other animals that are in danger is out of compassion. Though, if a whale does it, it is an act of instinct.

Earth Chronicles

It is possible that the humpback whale thought she was a seal or different animal that lived in the sea. The whale’s instinct, though, is to shield its calf from danger. This could have very well been the reason Nan was saved.

Next: Receiving Love

Back Way Under

Four days after the very special experience, Nan went back into the ocean to the same spot. She went to the same spot as she was last time. It was then, that she noticed another humpback whale, a female this time.

San Diego Reader

She had worked with humpback whales her whole life but after everything that had happened, they held a very different meaning for her. Nan got right back in the water and what happened next amazed her!

A Wonderful Birthday Gift

The female humpback whale swam calmly and got to about 5 feet under Nan. She put out her pectoral fins around her, as if to give her a hug! Considering it was Nan’s birthday, she took it as one of the most wonderful gifts she’s ever received.

Source: Science101

What happened to Nan in the Cook Islands is truly a remarkable event. It’s beautiful to see how someone who dedicated her life to protecting whales ends up being the one protected. The whale returned the favor, in essence.

A little something about Nan…

A Remarkable Career

Nan received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in November 2014 for her worldwide work.
She’s the President and Director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation. She lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, where she is the Principal Investigator for the Cook Islands Whale Research Project and Director of the Cook Islands Whale & Wildlife Centre.

Source: IMDB

Nan’s research includes population identity, Photo ID, acoustics, genetics, surface & underwater behaviour, navigation and migration of cetaceans (aquatic mammals). She even uses satellites to see how whales migrate over long distances.

Remains Unknown…

Nan has stated that “Humpbacks are the most studied of the large whales, yet much of their basic biology remains unknown.” Nan’s team is well known for “Droning” whales in their natural habitat and the footage they take is incredible.

Source: Time Magazine

Some of their footage has been used in films and advertisements. Her satellite method of tracking the whales has led to some interesting results and even bigger questions about whales, including why and how they migrate…

Whale Droning

Their whale droning has led to intriguing results and bigger questions about how whales migrate. The satellite follows linear constant course segments and celestial navigation along with gravity. Satellite tagging puts a sensitive mini device onto whales.

Source: Daily Telegraph

The device allows scientists to track the whales by gathering data on their movements, habitat use and population structure. Nan is dedicated to her cause, and aims to educate the world on whales and what they have to offer, saying “Why learn it if you don’t share it.”

She does more than just study whales…

Also an Assistant Professor and Nurse

Nan’s other field research includes a study site in the Bahamas where she researches beaked whales, dolphins, and other water mammals, including Mesoplodon densirostris, a rare beaked whale. Her team captured the first quality underwater footage of the mammal in the world.

Source: Life Daily

Nan wears many hats: she works at the Auckland University in New Zealand where she is an assistant professor. She’s also a registered nurse and teaches and practices medicine on Rarontonga and the neighboring islands. She’s said: “Being a scientist and conservationist is more than my work, it’s my passion.”

Some Stuff You Can Tell Your Family at Dinner Tonight

You might be interested to know the following facts about these incredible water mammals. And you can use these facts as some interesting conversation topics when you have dinner with your family tonight. Let’s start with…

Source: Pixels

Whales, like all mammals, breathe air into lungs, are warm-blooded, feed their offspring milk and have some hair. Their bodies have the form of a fish, while their forelimbs (or flippers) are paddle-shaped. The tail fins (or flukes), let the whales propel themselves through the water.

Did You Know?

We’ve all heard the word blubber. But do you know what it really is? Blubber is a layer of fat that lies beneath the skin. It’s basically like an energy tank and also serves as insulation. Do you know which whale is the largest that ever lived?

Source: Natural World Safaris

The Blue Whale is the largest known mammal at up to 110 feet long and 150 tons. And amazingly, most whales are very active in the water. They jump high, or breach, out of the water and land back in. It’s what everyone sees when they go whale watching.

From Miles Away

Male humpback whales found in the U.S. sing some complicated “songs” in winter breeding areas in waters near Hawaii, in the Caribbean, and other places. These complex songs can last up to 20 minutes and be heard from miles away.

Source: The Shape of Life

The blue whale (the largest mammal ever, as we mentioned earlier) can grow to 90 or more feet and weigh as much as 24 elephants! That’s more than 330,000 pounds (150,000 kg). It’s hard to even fathom that kind of weight!

You won’t believe the next fact…

Longest Living of them All

Some whale species are among the longest lived mammals. Scientists estimated that bowhead whales (a baleen whale found in the Arctic) can live for more than 200 years! And then there are killer whales (a toothed whale found in various habitats worldwide) that can live for more than 100 years.

Source: NBC News

Despite their villainous names, Killer whales are highly social and travel in groups that are matrifocal, which means a family unit focused or centered on the mother.

The Canaries of the Sea

Beluga whales have flexible necks, allowing them to move their heads which isn’t commonly seen among water mammals. Their communication range of complex whistles, clicks, and chirps has given them a sweet nickname.

Source: WTTW

Belugas have been given the nickname “canaries of the sea” because of how they communicate. The beluga is also called the white whale and it’s one of the smallest species of whale.

If you enjoyed these whale facts you’ll be amazed at the next ones about sea animals!

Sea Otters Store Food Where?

Did you know that sea otters have a secret pocket of skin near their armpits to store food? Yeah, it’s something the average person doesn’t really think about. But isn’t that strange? You probably also didn’t know that this aquatic animal is a member of the weasel family.

Source: Adventure Sports Journal

It’s found along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia. Sea otters often float on the water’s surface, lying on their backs in a very serene manner. They sleep this way, often in groups too.

Penguins Actually Propose

Here’s a fact that will make you appreciate penguins even more than you already do, considering how cute and harmless they are. Did you know that there are certain species of male penguins that actually “propose” to their lady mate with a pebble during mating season?

Source: Reddit

Emperor Penguins are the tallest of the species, being nearly 4 feet tall! The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

You might not know much about seahorses, but you’ll see why they’re one of a kind!

Male Seahorses Give Birth

Here’s something you don’t hear of every day in the animal kingdom: seahorses are among the only species in which the male gives birth and takes care of the young. And you’re going to love this little bit of info on seahorse couples and how they communicate…

Source: National Geographic Kids

Seahorse couples greet each other every morning with a unique dance that sometimes involves changing color. The couple “strolls” together for a few minutes before separating for the rest of the day. They do this as a way to confirm the other partner is still alive, reinforce their bond and synchronize their reproductive cycles.

Manatees are Related to the Elephant Family

While manatees may have more in common with dolphins or whales, they are actually related to elephants! They live in coastal waters and rivers, and they’re the ocean’s largest herbivores.

Source: Orlando Weekly

There was a woman that actually rode a manatee in Florida a few years ago and got arrested. That’s because West Indian manatees are protected by the Manatee Sanctuary Act, which states that it’s against the law for “any person at any time, by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb” the endangered animals.

Harp Seals Have Stellar Scent

Mother harp seals have the ability to find their young in a giant crowd just from their pup’s distinct scent! Harp seals are highly social animals, living most of its life in herds of hundreds. It can stay underwater for up to 18 minutes at a maximum of 400 meters deep.

Source: Brian Skerry

Unfortunately, climate change has become a real risk factor for these cute little seals. Not only is there a lack of firm ice to haul out on, but baby seals are getting crushed between the shifting masses. It’s a real shame.

Jellyfish Are Older than Dinosaurs

Did you know that jellyfish have been around longer than dinosaurs and have survived five mass extinctions! Also, there’s a jelly that looks like a fried egg and it’s basically one of the coolest things you’ll ever see.

Source: Reddit

Jellyfish are about 98 percent water. If you see one after it washes up on the beach, it will mostly disappear as the water evaporates. Most jellyfish are transparent and bell-shaped. Their bodies have a radial symmetry, which means the body parts extend from a central point (think of it like the spokes on a wheel).

Speaking of Jellyfish

An adult jellyfish is called a medusa, which was named after Medusa, the mythological creature with snakes for hair who could turn humans to stone with one look. Jellyfish are carnivores, by the way, so they eat other animals.

Source: Flickr

Smaller jellyfish eat algae and other tiny plankton called zooplankton. But larger jellyfish eat crustaceans and other larger sea animals. Their sting is both a defense mechanism and a way to capture their prey.

Not Really a Bother

They may be known for their stings, but jellyfish are generally not a nuisance. But in recent years, certain parts of the world, like Japan, Australia, and countries in Europe, have seen a dramatic increase in jellyfish populations.

Source: Reddit

Scientists believe the increase may be due to additional nutrients in the water, climate change or fishing along the coastlines. These population increases are called “blooms.” When in large numbers, jellyfish also cause chaos with local fishing industries by tearing holes in fishing nets and disrupting other fish populations.

They’re Best in Their Natural Environment

Jellyfish do best in their natural environment, but many aquariums and zoos like to have jellyfish tanks, considering how interesting and beautiful they are. For those who capture them and raise them in tanks, they need to be careful.

Source: Photoburst

It’s important not to damage their fragile bodies. Ideally, jellyfish should be in a tank with no sharp corners or obstacles that they hurt themselves on. In addition, the water needs to have some flow to it because jellyfish mainly move with currents.

Jellyfish the Size of Whales

Apparently, people have spotted jellyfish the size of blue whales while swimming in UK waters. The enormous lion’s mane jellyfish put three people in hospital. These jellyfish can give a nasty sting and have already been seen swimming off the coast in Cumbria, Blackpool, Anglesey, Dublin, and Ayrshire.

Source: Reddit

They can grow to extraordinary sizes, with the largest on record found in Massachusetts Bay, USA, in 1870 with a bell diameter of 2.3 meters and tentacles at 37 meters long!