A Maine researcher who has dedicated her life to saving whales says a humpback returned the favor.
Nan Hauser, of Brunswick, Maine, was diving off of the Cook Islands last September and filming a movie about her work with whales.
Her Go Pro footage shows a 50,000-pound humpback whale approaching, and get dangerously close.
"I had never seen a whale do this," Hauser said.
She said she has a strict rule about not touching the animals, but this whale started to touch her. It can be seen guiding her along, pushing her, even moving her onto his fin.
At one point, the whale lifts her above water. She can be heard calling out for help because she thought the whale could kill her.
"If he whacks me, he may break my bones and rupture my organs, but hopefully he won’t kill me," she said she remembered thinking.
For 10 minutes, the humpback circled her and pushed her back in the direction of her boat. Off camera, and in the distance, Hauser caught a glimpse of something more sinister: a large tiger shark was swimming in her direction.
"I seriously thought it was another whale, it was that big," Hauser said.
After studying the video footage and consulting other scientists, Hauser believes the humpback was shielding her from the shark, and attempting to save her life.
She said humpbacks have been known to display altruistic behavior, protecting other animals from predators, but this is the first documented case of a humpback protecting a human.
"I think about it every day," she said.
She released the video footage this week, and the clip has been shared around the world. Hauser hopes it inspires people and makes them see whales in a new way.
"If I can show the world how incredible whales are, and how they think…I hope people who watch this video will be inspired to be that way, too," she said.
In the video footage, Hauser can be seen getting back on her boat to safety. The whale pops its head up, looking in her direction. She believes it was checking to make sure she was safe.
"I love you!" she can be heard calling out to it.