UH Hilo whale researcher Adam Pack guides PBS film crew documenting sharks in Hawai‘i

While filming a Nature episode on “Sharks in Hawaii,” filmmakers gathered footage of UH Hilo animal behaviorist Adam Pack’s work to discuss interactions between humpback whales and tiger sharks.

By Susan Enright

Adam Pack
Adam Pack

In the spring of 2020, prior to the pandemic leading to a pause in vessel operations throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Professor Adam Pack, a marine mammal scientist at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, was out in waters off Maui for several humpback whale research projects. Joining Pack, who is the director of the Marine Mammal Laboratory, were various colleagues as well as his graduate students from the UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science program and from UH Mānoa.

During one of these periods, the researchers were accompanied by a film crew from PBS’s Nature who were creating the film “Sharks of Hawaii.” Their idea—beyond filming Hawai‘i’s many sharks—was to also film the whales and Pack’s work and discuss interactions between tiger sharks and humpback whales in their breeding grounds.

Pack explains that over his 25 years studying humpback whales in Hawaiian waters, “typically when we have seen tiger sharks in the presence of the humpbacks it is when a whale is already visibly ill and/or injured. That said, some calves appear to have injuries consistent with predation from sharks, usually cookie cutter sharks. This may explain in part why mothers sequester themselves with their newborns into shallow water, to avoid both natural predators as well as harassment from male humpbacks prospecting for mating opportunities.”

The 12-minute clip on the “Making of Sharks in Hawaii” shows excellent detail on the way Pack gathers whale data.

“The film clip is all footage gathered during our research excursion,” says Pack. “It shows my efforts to gather data on whale size and behavior using underwater videogrammetry, whale identification through surface photography, and whale hormone levels and health measures using biopsy sampling.”

Also in the clip are Pack’s colleagues from the Pacific Whale Foundation, Jens Currie and Stephanie Stack, doing the drone work for obtaining data on body condition.

All of the work occurs under National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration federal permits.

 

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.