Humpback Whale

The Whale Detective

Cover story by Jody Shiroma, PBS Hawaiʻi

 The moment a humpback whale breached near wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill and his friend Charlotte Kinloch.

 

Imagine sitting in a kayak at sea, looking up, and seeing approximately 60,000 pounds of whale coming at you. Amazingly, the kayakers – wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill and his friend Charlotte Kinloch – lived to tell the tale. And it became Mustill’s mission to understand why the traumatic incident took place.

 

It happened in 2015. A 30-ton humpback whale breached in Monterey Bay, California, and just missed landing on the duo in the kayak.

 

Viral videos recorded by witnesses left Mustill questioning whether the whale was deliberately trying to cause harm – or trying not to.

 

NATURE: The Whale Detective airs Wednesday, January 8, 8:00 pm

Mustill met with scientists, a whale expert, a whale tracker, a group dedicated to disentangling whales from fishing gear debris and individuals who survived similar close encounters with whales. He chronicles his inquiry in NATURE: The Whale Detective, premiering on PBS Hawaiʻi on Wednesday, January 8 at 8:00 pm.

 

Mustill found that though we’ve observed the ways that whales splash – tail throw, tail slap, chin slap, pec slap and breach – we don’t know what prompts these behaviors. While his investigation enabled him to come up with a plausible reason for why the whale breached so close to him and Kinloch, it is only a theory.

 

Filmmaker Tom Mustill (in water) and Charlotte Kinloch (far right) holding onto other whale watchers’ kayak after surviving the whale breaching near them.

But Mustill’s search did uncover interesting observations and discoveries about whales and greater questions about humans’ relationship with whales and their future.

 

Here in Hawaiʻi, we know that whales were considered by Native Hawaiians to be sacred. Called koholā, the whales were believed to be the majestic animal form of the Hawaiian ocean god Kanaloa. Ali‘i wore necklaces adorned with whale teeth and bone.

 

There are locations around the Islands associated with whales, including Pu‘ukoholā Heiau located in Kawaihae, Hawaiʻi Island; northwest Kahoʻolawe; Palaoa Hill, Lānaʻi; and Olowalu, Maui.

 

Noteworthy Facts:

  • Humpback whales have no teeth. They can barely nibble you, let alone swallow you. Their throats are only slightly larger than a human throat.
  • Inside a humpback’s pectoral fins are the biggest arms on the planet.
  • Over the past 40 years, the number of North Pacific humpbacks has increased from 1,000 to nearly 23,000, with as many as 14,000 migrating to Hawaiʻi each winter.
  • Historically, humpbacks travel more than 3,000 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaiʻi, and may be seen in Hawaiian waters from November through May. Peak sightings are generally from January to March.

 

 

 

ROADTRIP NATION
Setting Course in Hawai‘i: You Can Guide Your Future

ROAD TRIP NATION - Setting Course in Hawai‘i: You Can Guide Your Future

 

The team interviews Governor David Y. Ige; environmental policy specialist Hoku Ka‘aekuahiwi Pousima inspires Tehani to pursue her interest in law; and biologist Chrystie Naeole advises Keakealani and Traven on how they can maintain their unique identities while pursuing their ideas of success.

 

 

ROADTRIP NATION
Setting Course in Hawai‘i: Know Where Home Is

ROAD TRIP NATION - Setting Course in Hawai‘i: Know Where Home Is

 

Roadtrippers Tehani, Traven and Keakealani begin their journey on Hawai‘i Island, where they meet the scientist who saved Hawai‘i’s papayas.

 

 

ROADTRIP NATION
Setting Course in Hawai‘i: Cross the Ocean, Build Bridges

ROADTRIP NATION: Cross the Ocean, Build Bridges

 

Tehani, Traven and Keakealani visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to explore an active volcano zone and meet with geophysicist Dr. Jim Kauahikaua and engineer Kevan Kamibayashi. Then they island-hop over to Maui, where they tour the NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

 

 

Roadtrip Nation: Setting Course in Hawai‘i

ROADTRIP NATION: Setting Course in Hawai‘i

 

Watch the Full Episodes Online:

EPISODE 1: Setting Course in Hawai‘i – Don’t Forget Where You Came From

EPISODE 2: Setting Course in Hawai‘i – Cross The Ocean, Build Bridges

EPISODE 3: Setting Course in Hawai‘i – Know Where Home Is

EPISODE 4: Setting Course in Hawai‘i – You Can Guide Your Future

 

Roadtrip Nation is a national public television series that features young adults on a road trip, as they explore different career paths by talking with a range of professionals who do what they love.

 

For the first time, Roadtrip Nation visits Hawai‘i for Setting Course in Hawai‘i, a four-part series that follows local college students Keakealani Pacheco, Tehani Louis-Perkins and Traven ‘Āpiki as they speak with community members from all walks of life.

 

ROADTRIP NATION: Setting Course in Hawai‘i

 

With their enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM), coupled with their deep love of Hawai‘i and its native culture, Keakealani, Tehani and Traven embark across the Big Island, Maui and O‘ahu, with the hope of getting closer to uncovering what it takes to create a life that you love.

 

Read more about the series, and an interview with Keakealani, Tehani and Traven, in PBS Hawai‘i’s January 2018 Program Guide (PDF).

 

ROADTRIP NATION: Donʻt Forget Where You Came FromDon’t Forget Where You Came From

Wednesday, January 3, 7:30 pm

Roadtrippers Tehani, Traven and Keakealani begin their journey on Hawai‘i Island, where they meet Dr. Misaki Takabayashi, the Interim Associate Dean at UH Hilo; and Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, whose research helped develop the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya.
Encores Sunday, January 7, 4:30 pm

 

ROADTRIP NATION: Cross the Ocean, Build BridgesCross the Ocean, Build Bridges

Wednesday, January 10, 7:30 pm

Tehani, Traven and Keakealani visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to explore an active volcano zone and meet with geophysicist Dr. Jim Kauahikaua and engineer Kevan Kamibayashi. Then they island-hop over to Maui, where they tour the NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Encores Sunday, January 14, 4:30 pm

ROADTRIP NATION: Know Where Home IsKnow Where Home Is

Wednesday, January 17, 7:30 pm

The roadtrippers reach Oʻahu and take a once-in-a-lifetime trip up Mount Ka‘ala and visit the U.S. Army’s Natural Resource Management Unit at the summit of Ka’ala. Then they head to the North Shore to check out the Pipe Masters surfing contest and interview Surfline’s lead forecaster Kevin Wallis.
Encores Sunday, January 21, 4:30 pm

ROADTRIP NATION: You Can Guide Your FutureYou Can Guide Your Future

Wednesday, January 24, 7:30 pm

The team interviews Governor David Y. Ige; environmental policy specialist Hoku Ka‘aekuahiwi Pousima inspires Tehani to pursue her interest in law; and biologist Chrystie Naeole advises Keakealani and Traven on how they can maintain their unique identities while pursuing their ideas of success.
Encores Sunday, January 28, 4:30 pm