UH Hilo whale researcher Adam Pack’s work featured on PBS Kids series Wild Kratts, April 1 

Prof. Pack says the filming was an incredibly fun way to pay it forward to teach, excite, and inspire future generations of whale scientists, educators, and conservationists from a very young age.

By Susan Enright.

Five men at the bow of the ship gather for photo. The cameraman in the photo is holding his camera up high.
Clockwise from left, Chris Kratt (in green), cameraman Nick Shaw, Adam Pack, Martin Kratt, and Marc Lammers, aboard the research vessel Kohola on waters off Maui, Feb. 6, 2023. (Courtesy photo)

An hour-long episode of the PBS Kids show Wild Kratts, airing April 1, features the work of Adam Pack, a renowned expert on whale behavior who holds a joint appointment in the departments of psychology and biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

This Wild Kratts episode, “Our Blue and Green World,” will air Monday, April 1, 3:00 p.m. on PBS Hawaiʻi.

The Wild Kratts series is extremely popular with young children (and their parents) and transitions from a live action segment featuring the animal of focus, to both Kratt brothers being animated and having an adventure in a “what if” scenario, and then coming back for a final live action scene.

“It is in this final scene that [our research team is] interviewed about some of my work,” says Pack.

Pack specializes in marine animal behavior. He is founder of the Marine Mammal Laboratory at UH Hilo and co-founder of The Dolphin Institute. He also co-founded the university’s LOHE Bioacoustics Lab. He has conducted extensive research into the migratory patterns of humpback whales between Alaska and Hawaiʻi, which includes components of bioacoustic research on the giant mammals’ song.

The filming

On February 6, 2023, brothers Chris Kratt and Martin Kratt, who are trained zoologists and the stars of Wild Kratts, joined Pack aboard the research vessel Kohola in waters off Maui to learn about and film his collaborative humpback whale research.

Also aboard were Marc Lammers, a research ecologist with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary who is co-author with Pack of a newly published study on whale behavior, along with Julia Zeh a graduate student from Syracuse University working with Pack and Lammers on her doctorate.

Pack and crew showcased their efforts to photograph the undersides of each whale’s tail flukes, which is essentially the “fingerprint” of each whale enabling researchers to re-sight individuals over years and trace their life histories, as well as their work to deploy suction cup acoustic recording tags on whales of different age classes to learn about vocal development of song and other social sounds, as well as whale energetics.

At left is photo of whale tail fluke coming up out of water. At right is photo of Adam Pack photographing whales at sea.
Archive photos of Adam Pack collecting images of humpback flukes. (Courtesy photos stored in UH Hilo Stories archives)

Paying it forward

Wild Kratts is a popular and influential kids’ show, now in its seventh season with the goal to introduce early-elementary school children to the secret lives of extraordinary animals.

Adam Pack pictured
Adam Pack

“Days after the filming, I asked the students in one of my UH Hilo classes if they had ever heard of the show,” says Pack. “Nearly every hand went up and those with children chimed in that their kids love the show. One of my graduate students added that as a child watching Wild Kratts is what made her want to become a marine biologist.”

Pack says the filming was an incredibly fun way to pay it forward to teach, excite and inspire future generations of whale scientists, educators and conservationists from a very young age.

“I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study these magnificent giants of the Pacific for 30 years in both their Hawaiian breeding grounds and Alaskan feeding grounds,” says Pack. “While it is always a privilege to give presentations on our findings at scientific conferences and to the general public, or to have them featured in documentary films, it is truly a special occasion when I can reach young children. Not only do they always get super excited to learn about and experience the whales, they are our best hope to ensure that the whales and their marine habitat continue to be cared for and protected.”

Award-winning educator

In 2017, Pack was the recipient of the UH Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching, a UH System award with multiple recipients from across the 10-campus system. In 2023, he received the UH Hilo Excellence in Scholarly/Creative Activities Award.

In addition to the impact of his whale research, Pack, who serves as chair of UH Hilo’s Department of Psychology, is regarded by students and colleagues as an outstanding, engaging and enthusiastic teacher at the graduate and undergraduate levels, an extremely effective advisor, and a wonderful mentor that operates both inside and outside the classroom. Students are inspired by his teaching, which includes the infusion of relevant examples from his own marine mammal research and the use of whole class experiments to communicate complex material.

A promo flyer signed by Martin Kratt and Chris Pratt to Adam Pack.
A promotional flyer for the PBS kids’ show Wild Kratts given to Adam Pack, signed by Chris Kratt and Martin Kratt. (Courtesy photo from Adam Pack)

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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.

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