A video of a humpback whale making close interaction with a diver surfaced recently, along with the touching story of how the creature was apparently attempting to protect the diver from a nearby tiger shark. Despite capturing the hearts of millions of people who have seen the video, some scientists are skeptical as to the possible true motives of the whale.
Nan Hauser is a marine biologist who has spent years of her life fighting for whale conservation as president and director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation. With such a background, one would think that Hauser has had every type of experience with the marine giants, and yet she recently had an experience that stirred the hearts of many.
While conducting her research and working on a nature film in Cook Islands, Hauser and a fellow diver were joined in their dive by a massive humpback whale. In the video of the encounter, it’s easy to see that this was no ordinary encounter, as the humpback whale was directly swimming toward the divers. In fact, it can be seen nudging Hauser with a closed mouth multiple times, and at one point, the whale even practically pushed her out of the water with its massive pectoral fin.
Hauser was unsure of the reasoning behind the whale’s behavior and was worried that she might get injured but made it safely to the boat where she realized that they were also joined by a tiger shark. After reviewing the footage and examining her experience, Hauser believes that the motive behind the whale’s unusual behavior was altruistic, as it was likely attempting to save her from the tiger shark that she did not even see.
Altruism, Protection, Or Mother’s Instinct?
There are, however, other possible explanations for the whale’s behavior. For instance, in the past, humpback whales have exhibited the same protective behavior toward other species such as sea lions and seals. Further, they could also be doing so as a response to distress calls or as their way of protecting others who are at a “weaker” life stage.
Given the past evidences of humpback whales’ possibly protective and altruistic behavior, it’s possible that it was knowingly protecting Hauser, but others are questioning whether the act was purely altruistic or something different altogether.
Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway is doubtful of the supposed altruistic motives of the whale. According to him, as the whale appears to be a female, it’s possible that she may have recently lost a calf and was protective of the human as a result of the hormonal changes. Based on the video alone, he states that there is no concrete evidence of altruism, while another whale researcher, Jim Darling, finds the whale’s motives difficult to read.
“I’m a scientist, and if anyone told me this story, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Hauser, standing by her account despite doubts from others. After all, regardless of the reasoning behind the whale’s seemingly protective actions, it is still fascinating to see such an encounter between two different species.