KAILUA-KONA, Hawai’i (AP) — A marine researcher in Hawaii who has observed an increased rate of whale shark encounters around the islands is developing a research program to document the giant fish rarely found in U.S. waters.
Maria Harvey worked for seven years in various capacities off the shores of West Hawai’i before she saw her first whale shark. Since then, she’s seen about 30.
In 2016, Harvey came up with a research idea for the Hawai’i Uncharted Research Collective, a nonprofit organization, to chart whale sharks around the state and hopefully create better protections for the species, West Hawai’i Today reported.
“Whale sharks are considered an endangered species,” Harvey, chief research coordinator, said of her motivation to develop the program. “So if they are in our waters, we need to understand how to protect them and how to preserve them.”
Stacia Goecke, the organization’s chief scientist and co-founder, said whale sharks have been overfished around the world, leading to a decline in the overall population. She said the only restriction applying to whale sharks in the U.S. is that no one is allowed to catch and sell them for use in aquariums.
Goecke said ocean goers have reported more sightings in 2017 and 2018 than during any other years – to date more than 50.
Funding for the research project is still in its early stages. To date, the organization has only obtained one grant, from the California-based PADI Foundation, to construct a laser photogrammetry rig. The device uses two lasers with a camera to measure the length of a whale shark, which will allow them to delineate between juvenile and adults.