Video: Underwater video shows 30-foot whale shark feeding a mile off Kāneʻohe Bay
Researchers from a shark lab at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa recently released footage of a 30-foot whale shark spotted feeding off Kāneʻohe Bay on Oʻahu last Thursday.
Mark Royer, a UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology shark researcher, alongside his peers, returned from conducting fieldwork when they spotted seabirds flying over what they suspected to be a bait ball, where small fish swarm in a tightly packed spherical formation near the surface while being pursued and herded by predators below.
When he went into the water to see what was there, and that’s when he saw the whale shark.
“It is surprising. 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,” he said.
The whale shark was feeding on nehu (Hawaiian anchovy), and Royer said the video captures 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,” he said.
The whale shark is the world’s largest fish and though it is known to be in Hawaiian waters, it is rarely seen.
However, after sitting still, the whale shark came right up to them.
“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. That’s a behavior that whale sharks sometimes exhibit is that if your boat is standing still in the water they will approach you,” he said.
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.
Whale sharks are known to approach boats standing idle in the water. It is important to be mindful and respectful, let them approach, don’t aggressively approach and disturb them.
The UH Mānoa HIMB Shark Research Lab investigates the behavior, physiology and ecology of sharks and other fish.