Humpback whale
A humpback whale jumps out of the water in the western Antarctic peninsula, on March 05, 2016. Getty Images

A Maine woman claimed in a viral video that a 50,000-pound humpback whale protected her from a shark attack while she was snorkeling near the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. The video, which was published Monday on YouTube, shows the moment the whale pushed the snorkeler through the water as a large tiger shark was seen lurking close.

Whale biologist Nan Hauser, 63, a Brunswick native, spoke to the Daily Mirror when she said that this was the first such evidence of whales’ protective nature. She said that the whale moved to keep her from a nearby 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 incident took place in October 2017 but the video was circulated widely on social media on Monday.

“I’ve spent 28 years underwater with whales, and have never had a whale so tactile and so insistent on putting me on his head, or belly, or back, or, most of all, trying to tuck me under his huge pectoral fin,” Hauser told the Mirror. “I never took my eyes off him which is why I didn’t see the shark right away.

“[Humpback whales] truly display altruism — sometimes at the risk of losing their own lives,” she continued. “Other fishermen and divers have seen this same shark nearby the reef and say that it is as big as a pickup truck. Some say that it is 20 feet long. It’s funny how the tables are turned here: I’ve spent the past 28 years protecting whales, and in the moment, I didn’t even realize that they were protecting me!”

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.”

“I didn’t want to panic because I knew that he would pick up on my fear,” Hauser told the Daily Mirror. “I feel a very close kinship with animals, so despite my trepidation, I tried to stay calm and figure out how to get away from him.”

The video shows Hauser, making contact with the mammal, but she said that the whale was the one forcefully making direct contact with her.

"I never touch the whales that I study unless they are sick or stranded on the beach,” she said. "In my head, I was a bit amused since I write Rules and Regulations about whale harassment - and here I was being harassed by a whale."

Hauser, the president of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, said that whales are "altruistic" and often hide seals from predators.

After the video went viral Monday, Andrew Pershing, the chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Marine Research Institute, spoke out saying he "was astounded" after watching the footage.

“To have something like that happen with cameras in the water, that’s really extraordinary,” he said, adding that the encounter underscores how much there remains to learn about whales.

James Sulikowski, a marine biologist and professor at the University of New England who has studied tiger sharks, admitted that Hauser had “an awesome experience.” However, he said he was not convinced that the whale saved her life.

“The shark could have just been hanging around,” he said. “There’s really no way of knowing the whale’s motivation.”

Tiger sharks rank No. 2 behind the great white shark in the number of reported attacks on humans, according to the International Shark Attack File. The shark-monitoring group says that "large size and voraciousness" of tiger sharks qualify it as a formidable ocean predator. The group also says that tiger sharks become curious and aggressive when they spot humans in the water.