Updated: December 5, 2022
Hawaiian waters are known for ocean migrants, from humpback whales to green sea turtles to great white sharks, but did you know that the largest fish in the world visits the islands as well?
Whale sharks, which can grow up to 60 feet, have eluded residents and scientists alike, but Kona-based Hawaiʻi Uncharted Research Collective is working to understand more about these gentle giants.
The public is invited to learn about HURC and these animals in a free presentation, “A look at whale sharks in Hawaii: A research effort for the conservation of an endangered species,” led by HURC founder Maria Harvey. The Zoom presentation will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. as part of Maui Nui Marine Resource Councilʻs monthly Know Your Ocean Speaker Series, sponsored by the County of Maui.
Harvey founded HURC in 2017 with a mission to conduct research on whalesharks and other marine organisms in Hawaiian waters, focusing on population dynamics, ecology, animal behavior and human impacts. HURC merges community engagement with scientific research, relying on citizen science and field studies to better understand how and why these sharks use Hawaii’s offshore areas. Findings from this research will support local and global efforts to conserve whale sharks and their environment.
Her presentation will cover how and why Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective was formed and will give viewers a glance at the organization’s research projects. It will also provide information on localized and global threats to whale sharks, dive into some of HURC’s results so far, and discuss the future of the organization and other conservation efforts.
“Hawaiʻi Uncharted Research Collective provides an avenue to couple my research and education background with my love for the Hawaiian Islands, ocean conservation, and the charismatic whale sharks that inhabit the deep blue waters of the Pacific,” said Harvey. “I’m excited to share the story of HURC and what we’ve accomplished since our founding.”
Whale sharks are found worldwide in tropical seas, preferring open waters where they can be found filter feeding with their large mouths on some of the smallest marine organisms, plankton.
They are currently listed as “endangered,” mainly due to fishing pressure, accidental catch and vessel strikes. Capable of living upwards of 100 years, very little is known about these animals, especially those in Hawaiian waters. HURC’s research hopes to contribute to worldwide scientific investigations into these mysterious and threatened animals.
“Hawaii truly is a remarkable place for marine wildlife,” said Mike Fogarty, Executive Director of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “We’re excited to share Maria’s work with the larger public and hear ways that residents and visitors alike can contribute to local efforts to research and protect these charismatic sharks.”
Admission is free, but advanced registration is required. To register, visit https://bit.ly/WhaleSharkWebinar.
About Maria Harvey:
Maria Harvey graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Marine Science and is currently working on her graduate degree in Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. Maria’s love for the ocean, education, wilderness and research has taken her all over the world in recent years. Notably, Maria has worked in Alaska, Hawaiʻi, Canada, Mexico and Cape Cod. During her travels, she has worked as a Captain, naturalist, expedition guide and assistant researcher, and is currently a level-4 marine animal disentanglement specialist.
Her work and studies have encompassed a variety of species, including spinner dolphins, humpback whales, right whales, bottlenose dolphins, leatherback turtles and whale sharks. In recent years, Maria has been a guest lecturer and distinguished speaker for private universities and cruise operations, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School, Georgetown University and UnCruise Adventures.