A whale of an encounter!

Monday October 09, 2017 Written by Published in Weekend
This remarkable close up, along with other photos, has gone viral on social media. © Photos by Dick Harrewijn & Nan Hauser. 17100651 This remarkable close up, along with other photos, has gone viral on social media. © Photos by Dick Harrewijn & Nan Hauser. 17100651

Whale researcher Nan Hauser wrote this personal account of her exciting encounter with a 50-tonne humpback last week, especially for CINews.

The dramatic photos were shot on Hauser’s birthday – and as it turned out, the whale may have been trying to protect her from a tiger shark seen nearby. Hauser takes up the story….

I entered the water to film two whales off the coast of Rarotonga that were very “chilled out” and I needed skin samples and tail fluke IDs.

I have spent countless hours over the past 28 years underwater with whales and with a GoPro camera in my hand I carefully slid over the side of the boat.

Because I had brain surgery a year and a half ago, I am not allowed to dive anymore. I have severe epilepsy and ended up with an aneurism needing surgical intervention.

That’s OK though ... they fixed the brain bleed, but if they had totally removed the aneurism, I would be paralysed on half my body because of the aneurism’s location in the left frontal lobe of my brain.

That was not an option for me, so I take medication four times a day and continue my adventures!

I was at the surface of the water when one of the whales approached me from quite a distance and kept coming towards me.

I was hugely surprised that he just kept coming right at me and it was quite frightening. I put my hand out and he pushed me through the water until I ended up on his head!

He spent a good 10 minutes trying everything possible to get me under his pectoral fin as I calmly and carefully pushed my body away from him. Had he succeeded, I would have drowned. I wasn’t sure why he was doing this until I saw a huge, fat 15-foot tiger shark (10 other people have seen this shark since and they say that it’s 18 to 20 feet!).

The second whale was working to keep the shark away from me and her behaviour displayed a lot of persistent tail slapping. I understand now that he was just trying to save my life!

The way that he was looking at me with his huge wise eye, I should have known. I stayed as calm as I could because I knew that he would pick up on my fear. I truly thought that it would be a certain death for me as he threw me gently around his body for what seemed like an eternity (10 minutes can be forever).

At one point he even lifted me out of the water on his pectoral fin. I was literally kneeling on his fin to stop from getting caught under it.

The video footage is unreal. I look at it and I can’t believe that

it is actually me sliding all over this 50-tonne adult whale. It will be part of the film that we are making with Nature Conservation Films. I will also piece together a Vimeo or YouTube video.

I am afraid that some people will mistakenly accuse me of harassing a whale when he clearly approached me and he harassed me!

No complaints though ... I may have a few bumps, bruises and barnacle scratches, but he was just trying to save my life. And I guess he did.

But there’s more to the story! Four days later the second whale that had been there for during my crazy encounter, approached my boat. She recognised me and lured me into the water by “spy hopping” many times next to the boat.

I slid off the back of the boat. She disappeared after swimming past me and then surprised me by swimming slowly up directly under me from the deep, deep blue.

She kept coming straight towards me and surrounded me with her huge pectoral fins as she spy-hopped a few times. She hugged me and it was my birthday!

I have certainly never been hugged by a whale in the 28 years that I have studied them. This is a basic outline of the story... there is so much more I could write about this encounter. I am truly deeply blessed and it has changed my life in so many ways. I always said that I would spend my life being a voice for whales, dolphins and the ocean and now that commitment has become even stronger!

I am forever grateful for the fishermen, the locals and the whales in my 20 years here in the Cook Islands. 

In the Cook Islands and most places in the world, it is against the rules and regulations of the country to enter the water with a whale. I have a research permit to do so and have always been very respectful by only dropping into the water when I am looking for a small piece of sloughed skin or need a photograph of the tail fluke or lateral pigmentation. Much of my research is done with GoPro cameras off the side of the boat

My Facebook post has brought joy and love from many thousands of people around the world. Humpback whales are altruistic … they will protect themselves and other species such as seals and dolphins from the danger of killer whales and large sharks.

This is the first account of a humpback altruistically protecting a human and trying to hide me under his huge pectoral fin!

Please read an article called The Power of Compassion at https://www.hakaimagazine.com/features/power-compassion.

It is about humpback whales and their desire to protect. I am astonished at the love and support from thousands of people in the Cook Islands and around the world in the past week. With my deepest gratitude, meitaki maata! 

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