A Maine woman is saying her video of being protected by a humpback whale from a threatening shark is the first such evidence of whales’ protective nature, according to the British newspaper The Daily Mirror.

Whale biologist Nan Hauser, 63, a Brunswick native, was snorkeling alongside the 50,000-pound whale when it moved to keep her from a nearby shark, by nudging her with its head, tucking her under its giant pectoral fin and even reportedly lifting her out of the water at one point.

The incident, which took place in the waters near the Cook Islands in the South Pacific in October, is now being circulated widely on social media and by news outlets.

Hauser said the whale’s behavior worried her at first, as she could have gotten seriously hurt by the massive animal. It was only later that she noticed a large tiger shark lurking, and realized the whale seemed to be laboring to keep her away from it.

“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. “I never took my eyes off him which is why I didn’t see the shark right away.

“[Humpback whales] truly display altruism — sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives,” she continued. “Other fishermen and divers have seen this same shark nearby the reef and say that it is as big as a pickup truck. Some say that it is 20 feet long. It’s funny how the tables are turned here: I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me!”

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.