Humpback whale protects unsuspecting diver from tiger shark

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In an over-whale-ming show of protection, a 50,000-pound humpback whale shielded a snorkeler from a tiger shark.

The whale moved the 63-year-old to keep her away from a large tiger shark by nudging her with its head, tucking her under its giant pectoral fin and even lifting her out of the water at one point.

The fantastic encounter seen in the video below occurred off the coast of Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, The Independent reported. If he held me under his pectoral fin, I would have drowned'. Stay on top of breaking news stories with the ABC11 News AppIt wasn't until later that the film crew told her what happened - a shark was in the area. It was only when she saw the animal moving its tail left to right, instead of up to down, that she realized it was not a whale but, rather, a potentially unsafe animal swimming towards her. Marine biologist Robert Pitman has spent years studying how and why humpbacks protect seals, sea lions, and porpoises from orca "killer" whales.

Hauser, who lives on the Cook Islands, said to the Mirror: "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".

Hauser says that the encounter could be evidence that whales are altruistic animals that feel compelled to save smaller creatures.

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Nan Hauser, President of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation and a Brunswick resident, says she uploaded footage of her encounter Monday and it quickly spread across the Internet. James Sulikowski, a marine biologist and professor at the University of New England who has studied tiger sharks, said he's not convinced that the whale saved her life.

While she did not notice the shark at first as her attention was firmly on the "tactile" whale, she said: "Other fishermen and divers have seen this same shark nearby the reef and say that it is as big as a pickup truck". "There's really no way of knowing the whale's motivation".

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.

"They truly display altruism", Hauser said.