A marine biologist believes a humpback whale shielded her from a nearby tiger shark in the South Pacific.
The stunning video and images show how the whale pushed whale biologist Nan Hauser with its head, tucked her under its pectoral fin, and even lifted her out of the water.
Lurking near the mammal and Nan, 63, was a 15-foot tiger shark.
Out of shot, another whale was persistently slapping its tail to keep the shark away from Nan.
When Nan did see the shark, she initially thought that it was another whale – until she noticed its tail moving from side to side, like a shark, instead of up and down.
As Nan returned to the safety of the boat, in the waters off Muri Beach, Rarotonga, the Cook Islands, in October, the whale even surfaced to check on her.
She said the incident is proof of whales’ nature to protect other species of animal – including humans – and believes an event like it has never been captured on film.
Nan, who lives on the Cook Islands, said: “I wasn’t sure what the whale was up to when he approached me, and it didn’t stop pushing me around for over 10 minutes.”
She added: “It seemed like hours. I was a bit bruised up.
“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.
“I tried to get away from him for fear that if he rammed me too hard, or hit me with his flippers or tail, that would break my bones and rupture my organs.”
She added: “If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned.”
“I didn’t want to panic, because I knew that he would pick up on my fear.
“I stayed calm to a point but was sure that it was most likely going to be a deadly encounter.
“I feel a very close kinship with animals, so despite my trepidation, I tried to stay calm and figure out how to get away from him.
“I never took my eyes off him which is why I didn’t see the shark right away.”
Nan had never experienced such an event in person with a humpback, or seen footage in the past 28 years of studying whales.
For over 10 minutes, Nan said, she was focused on the whale, unaware of the shark nearby.
The biologist now hopes to share the footage that she and her team were able to capture, in order to expand research and awareness of such actions from whales.