The Loop

And I for one welcome our new savior-whale overlords

January 12, 2018
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Here’s some fantastic news from the world of sentient and sympathetic marine mammals: According to a story that appeared this week in National Geographic, a diver off the coast of Rarotonga — part of the Cook Islands in the Pacific — was pushed away from a nearby tiger shark by a huge and helpful humpback whale, which used its fin to gently push her to safety. More happily, this entire event was all caught on camera. (Well, not entirely happily, because tiger shark attacks do not usually appear near the word “happily,” but it’s lovely to have the footage.)

The diver is biologist Nan Hauser, who is also the president and director for the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation. The POV video shows her swimming with a 25-ton humpback whale, which is one of those things that isn’t dangerous and will never be dangerous yet still strikes me as EXCEEDINGLY DANGEROUS, because of the part where she was swimming with a 25-ton sea beast, jeez look at the size of this thing. It could be covered in rainbow stickers and be humming Milli Vanilli songs and I’d still be like SWIM, DAMN YOU, SWIM FOR YOUR LIFE!

Anyway, and quite out of nowhere, the whale suddenly sort of pushes Hauser away with its giant fin, for reasons that Hauser says were not immediately clear to her. Only later, she says, did everyone realize that there was a 15-foot tiger shark also plying the waters around them. Her conclusion — as well as the conclusion of anyone who believes in universal goodness and needs some positive to cling to this horrible week, even if it comes from perceived marine altruism — was that the whale was trying to save her.

“I wasn’t sure what the whale was up to when he approached me,” Hauser told The Independent. “And it didn’t stop pushing me around for over 10 minutes. It seemed like hours. I was a bit bruised up.” In her 28 years of whale study, Hauser said she’d never seen anything quite so proactively protective.


(Incidentally, the first 30 seconds of this video are the most terrifying to those of us with a LARGE AND IRRATIONAL FEAR OF ENORMOUS ANIMALS, which may or may not be coming through in this piece. Bobbing underwater and turning around to see an enormous sentient blue school bus with a mouth swimming at me remains one of my top 3 fears on planet Earth, behind black ice, children in horror movies and basically all of Twitter.)

Humpback whales — as you know if you’ve studied marine biology or seen the old and good time-travel Star Trek movie, the one where Spock Vulcan-neck-pinches the boombox-toting punk on the San Francisco bus, and they park the invisible Enterprise in an empty downtown field for two days, man this is a good movie — are real good at communicating with each other, as well as aliens from the future.

But this is one of the most direct instances in which they were perceived to be good at communicating with the floppy SCUBA-masked pasta noodles swimming around with invasive video cameras. On behalf of all of us who have ever watched a nature documentary, thanks guys!

The video ends with crew members on the boat telling Hauser about the tiger shark and Hauser, with nearly 30 years of aquatic experience, not doing what most of us would do, which is leap to the surface of the water and skitter across it like Yosemite Sam to the safety of the boat. “I love you too,” she yells to her new best friend while climbing aboard, and the animal responds with a friendly geyser from its blowhole. If you’re stuck home on a snow day, or rebuilding from a storm, or stuck covering the president of the United States, this is not a bad way to end your week.