It went like this… I entered the water to film two humpback whales that appeared to be very “chilled out”. I needed skin samples and tail fluke ID’s. I have spent the past 28 years underwater with whales and with a go pro in hand and on this day 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 aneurysm needing surgical intervention.
I was at the surface of the water when one of the whales approached me and kept swimming towards me. I was frightfully surprised that he just kept coming right at me. 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 both of his huge pectoral fins as I calmly and carefully pushed my body away from him. I would have drowned had he succeeded. I knew that pushing him away was not going to have any effect, but at least I could try to push myself away from him!
I wasn’t sure why he was doing this until I saw a huge, robust 15 foot long tiger shark. The second whale was working to keep the shark away and her behaviour displayed a lot of persistent tail slapping. I understand now that he might have been trying to protect me from the shark. 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 one of his pectoral fins! 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 is part of a film that we are making with Nature Conservation Films in Amsterdam. Seventeen years ago, NCF made a documentary called ‘Footprints on the Water: The Nan Hauser Story’. This next film will air in the summer of 2018 and will be the sequel. The film will be amazing as it will tell many stories of the magnificent whales that I have encountered over the past 27 years.
I am afraid that some people will mistakenly accuse me of harassing a whale. Yet 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 me from possible danger. And I guess he did.
Four days later the second whale that had been there for my crazy encounter, approached my boat. She seemed to recognise our boat and lured me into the water by spy hopping, or sticking her head out of the water, many times next to the boat. I slid off the side 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 more times. It felt like she hugged me and it happened to be my birthday! I never have had
this kind of close interaction with a whale in the 27 years that I have studied them. I am truly and 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. 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’s off the side of the boat.
The release of the video has brought joy and love from many millions 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 a human under his huge pectoral fin.
Humpback whales have a desire to protect. If we humans could learn from such encounters and become more loving, altruistic, and caring towards each other, what a better world it would be. Simply, we are not here to see through each other, we are here to see each other through.
I am grateful at the joyful and supportive emails and texts that I have received since this video has gone viral. With my deepest gratitude to the world and of course, the magnificent whales, Meitaki maata!