Watch: Humpback Whale Saves A Diver from Massive Tiger Shark

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Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: November 9, 2023

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Do Whales Have Hair - Humpback Whale Hair
© Craig Lambert Photography/
Key Points:
  • While it isn’t common for whales to save humans, it is common for whales to save other creatures as they are altruistic towards other species.
  • This article covers a video of a humpback saving a human from a tiger shark.
  • Scientist Nan Hauser had an incredible experience with a humpback whale in Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands.

Whale scientist Nan Hauser had a one-in-a-billion experience, and even she realizes it sounds too good to be true. After all, when you read that a humpback whale saves a diver from a large tiger shark, it seems too good.

Yet, the video that she took in the water combined with her interview shows that something special happened that day. Hauser was off the coast of Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean. As she was observing a humpback whale, one of them looked at her and started coming her way.

Realizing that she needed to keep her distance, Hauser stayed near the surface. The humpback whale kept coming closer until she could reach her hand out and touch his head. As she was touching the whale’s head, it starts to push back against her.

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In any other situation, Hauser would be in danger. “I could easily be killed by this whale,” she says. A thrashing fin or a sudden move by the whale’s head could kill her.

mother and baby humpback whale swimming together

Humpback whale mothers can be aggressive if their babies are threatened.

©Imagine Earth Photography/

Despite trying to keep her distance, the whale kept trying to tuck her under its pectoral fin. Although she was getting cut by the barnacles on the whale’s skin, she tried to reach the surface. That’s when the whale lifted her out of the water so that she could see her boat and other crew members close by.

When she went back under the water, the whale was still ushering her forward with its head. Fearing she could be swallowed by the whale, she clung to the enormous creature as it continued to take her toward her boat. That’s when she saw the mammal’s eye go wide.

Following the whale’s line of sight, she saw another whale slapping its tail in the water, a defensive maneuver. It’s also about the time she saw something nobody ever wants to see: the largest tiger shark she had seen in her entire life.

She panicked, but the whale simply rolled her on its head and took Hauser to her boat. The video shows Hauser surfacing and climbing aboard her boat. She turns around and says “I love you too. I love you too.”

Humpback whales have been known to help humans and other mammals in distress.

©Achim Raschka – Public Domain

Hauser admits that if anyone told her this story, she would think it was made up. Yet, her friend and fellow scientist, Robert Pitman, wrote about how humpback whales can demonstrate altruism toward other creatures. She believes that the whale purposefully saved her because it recognized the danger.

A little over a year later, Hauser was called to the harbor on Rarotonga to investigate a whale in the water. She noticed this whale had the same notches on its tail fluke as the one that had saved her. The whale came by her boat and that’s when she saw its unique head scar.

The whale nuzzled her as she returned to the water, giving an even happier ending to this sweet story. This may be the only recorded experience of how a humpback whale saves a diver from a shark.

Where Are Humpback Whales Found?


Humpback whales live all over the southern hemisphere.

©Imagine Earth Photography/

Humpback whales can live in all of the oceans around the world. They actually travel a great distance each year and have the longest migrations of any mammal on Earth. In fact, many populations swim a staggering 5,000 miles from warm tropical breeding waters to colder and more productive feeding waters.

Although humpback whales are found all over the southern hemisphere, humpbacks are found mostly in the North Pacific waters. They are also common in South-East Alaska, Prince William Sound, and British Columbia. They have even been spotted in Hawaii and the Gulf of California.

How Long Do Humpback Whales Live?

A Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breaches out of the Atlantic Ocean. This endangered cetacean species migrates from the Northern Atlantic to the Caribbean each winter to breed or give birth.

Some of the oldest whales can live for 80 to 90 years.

©Ethan Daniels/

Humpback whales can live for a very long time. In fact, some of the oldest whales can live for 80 to 90 years. Some of the oldest Humpback Whales have been reported to get as old as 100 years. While humpback whales can live close to 100 years, the Bowhead whale lives for much longer and can reach a whopping age of 200 years old!

Do Whales Often Save Swimmers?

Swimming with a humpback whale

Humpback whales have saved other creatures but this is the first documented case of them saving a swimmer.

©Mark Nyman/

While this seems to be the first documented instance of a humpback whale saving the life of a swimmer, they are known to be altruistic towards other species. There are numerous documented cases of humpback whales going out of their way to help other creatures. Several other marine species are known to help swimmers in distress, most notably dolphins.

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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