(BIVN) – A 30-foot whale shark was recently recorded, feeding in the waters off Kāneʻohe Bay on Oʻahu, by researchers with the University of Hawaiʻi.
Whale sharks – the worldʻs largest fish – are known to be in Hawaiian waters, but they are rarely seen.
“It is surprising,” said Mark Royer, a UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology shark researcher. “They are here more often than we think, however they are probably hard to come across because like I said, I didn’t see this animal until I hopped in the water.”
The UH Mānoa HIMB Shark Research Lab investigates the behavior, physiology and ecology of sharks and other fish. Researchers from the Lab “were returning from conducting field work when they spotted seabirds flying over what they suspected was a bait ball, where small fish swarm in a tightly packed spherical formation near the surface while being pursued and herded by predators below.”
Researchers found it was a whale shark below the surface, feeding on nehu, or Hawaiian anchovy. Royer captured video of the moment, which also showed “a large aggregation of predators both small and large including ʻopelu (mackerel scad), kawakawa (mackerel tuna), aku (skipjack tuna), sandbar sharks and seabirds, who were also feeding on the nehu.”
“While all the small nehu were being drawn to the surface from all the predators, the whale shark was coming in and using its massive mouth to come up to the surface, open it, and then the suction would cause all the fish to funnel into its huge mouth,” Royer said.
The University notes that lelewaʻa is ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi for whale shark, “likely named for their propensity to approach and lean on canoe outriggers according to the late historian Samuel Kamakau.”
“It would swim and approach our boat that was nearby, put its head up to it and go back down and repeat that over and over again,” Royer said. “That’s a behavior that whale sharks sometimes exhibit is that if your boat is standing still in the water they will approach you.”
The UH Mānoa HIMB Shark Research Lab says it is important to be mindful and respectful of whale sharks, “let them approach, and don’t aggressively approach and disturb them.”