Watch Humpback Whale Heroically Save Scientist From Shark and Form Unbreakable Bond

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Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: November 9, 2023

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Swimming with a humpback whale
© Mark Nyman/

This unbelievably wholesome video was filmed close to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific during the making of a wildlife film. It shows whale scientist Nan Hause in the water. A male humpback whale rushes towards her, starts nudging her, and tries to protect her. The reason? Shortly afterward, a tiger shark turns up!

How Do Humpback Whales Interact With Humans?

Swimmer near a humpback whale

Humpback whales are usually gentle and non-aggressive toward humans

©anna sanfeliu gozalvez/

Humpback whales are generally gentle and non-aggressive with humans. They can be very curious about divers in the water and this is not necessarily safe for the human. As Nan Hause explains in this clip, you cannot take your eyes off them because the huge difference in size means that they could easily kill you even if it is by accident. They could swipe you with their pectoral fin, the peduncle or any other part of the body. Keeping a distance from them is therefore always the best idea.

Nevertheless, this particular whale kept trying to tuck her under his pectoral fin and then lifted her out of the water. Finally, he put her on his face to shield her from the shark.

Having said that, some aggressive encounters have been recorded. Nearly all of them have been by males during the breeding season or by mothers protecting calves.

What Is Known About Humpback Whale Intelligence?

Humpback whales have illustrated their intelligence in their complex social structures.

Humpback whales, and all whales actually, are considered highly intelligent animals. This is illustrated by their complex social structures and the fact that they can learn from each other. Scientific studies have indicated that they have very strong perception, awareness, and communication abilities. Experts also say that they can show emotion.

The phenomenon of whales protecting seals, sunfish, gray whales, and other species has been observed since the 1950s. According to marine biology expert Dr. Robert Pitman, it may be an automatic response to the approach of a predator that has killed whale calves in the past. However, if these whales can feel empathy, and it is suspected that they do, the behavior may be altruistic because there is no apparent benefit for the humpbacks. It just shows that we have so much more to learn about these magnificent creatures.

Is It Normal Behavior for Humpback Whales to Save People?

Mysterious Gray Animals - whale

Humpback whales are friendly and curious creatures which makes it more common for them to save people from danger.


Humpback whales have shown acts of helping humans and other mammals in distress. Whales play a crucial role in the ecosystem, which is essential for the survival of all creatures on Earth, including humans. They are a vital part of the marine ecosystem, contributing to at least half of the oxygen we breathe, helping fight climate change, and sustaining fish populations.

When whales feel threatened or stressed, they may attempt to defend themselves. However, despite their large size, whales do not perceive humans as prey, so they are not naturally aggressive toward us. These gentle giants are highly social creatures and naturally curious in their interactions. That’s why there are tales of whales protecting and saving people.

How Large Are Adult Humpback Whales?

Jump humpback whale. Madagascar

The average size of an adult female is about 35 tons (70,000 pounds) and 48 feet in length.


Adult humpback whales grow up to 60 feet long and can weigh as much as 40 tons (more than 80,000 pounds). Their flukes have a maximum length of 18 feet. The average size of an adult female is about 35 tons (70,000 pounds) and 48 feet in length, with males coming in at slightly smaller sizes.

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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