scientist

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.

 

 

 

NOVA
Dead Sea Scroll Detectives

 

What can new technology reveal about the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls? Join scientists as they investigate suspicious, newly surfaced fragments to see if they’re forfeited, and use imaging techniques to digitally unravel the charred remains of a scroll.

 

 

 

NOVA
Lethal Seas

 

Marine scientists across the world are hunting for clues to one of the greatest environmental catastrophes facing our planet today: ocean acidification. For years we’ve known the ocean absorbs about a quarter of the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. But as carbon emissions continue to rise, seawater chemistry is changing, and the ocean’s acidity is increasing. As a result, the skeletons and shells of marine creatures that form the foundation of the web of life are dissolving. Follow scientists who are seeking solutions and making breakthrough discoveries, including a unique coral garden in Papua New Guinea that offers a glimpse of what the seas could be like in a half-century.

 

 

 

PATRICK SULLIVAN
Professional Problem Solver

By Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Patrick Sullivan, Professional Problem Solver

Inset image, left: Sullivan as a University of Hawai‘i doctoral candidate in Engineering. Genie, right, is an Oceanit robotics and artificial intelligence project with two brains, eyes, ears and a mouth that is capable of tracking faces and specific expressions.

 

Patrick Sullivan Lifelong Problem Solver Tuesday, August 20 at 7:30 pm Professional Problem Solver Tuesday, August 27 at 7:30 pm Both program will be available online at pbshawaii.orgIt seems there’s no problem too big or too small for Patrick Sullivan of Kailua, Windward O‘ahu.

 

He wanted a car, so at age 13, he started working in food service jobs, saved up and bought a car at age 16.

 

He wanted to go to college, so at age 17, he applied for student loans, grants, and work study … and started a landscaping business to earn the money.

 

He visited the Islands during a college break, so to pay for his lodging, he cobbled together home improvement jobs for some people he met on the plane ride to O‘ahu.

 

So it seems natural that Sullivan is now in the business of problem solving. He’s the founder and chairman of Oceanit, a Honolulu-based company that uses science and innovation to create solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. One of the many projects that Oceanit is working on is a rapid-response solution to help an elderly person after a fall. Sullivan explains that an “inexpensive but effective robotic assistant” can help save a life.

 

This wall at Oceanit headquarters attracts visitor attention. Inset image: Deep-dive helmets, above, are being redesigned to reduce noise that causes hearing loss while maintaining the ability to communicate.

This wall at Oceanit headquarters attracts visitor attention. Inset image: Deep-dive helmets, above, are being redesigned to reduce noise that causes hearing loss while maintaining the ability to communicate.

 

The name “Oceanit” comes from a Greek and Latin term for “ocean dweller.” It’s an apt description for Sullivan, who gets in the water four to five times a week. It’s a tradition that started when his son Matthew and daughter Tarah were children. “Surfing is a way to reconnect to the world,” he says.

 

As Sullivan explains it, “Oceanit” is also an apt company name. “The ocean is a teacher in so many ways,” he says. “It covers everything from physics, chemistry, biology, hydromechanics, so [the ocean] is probably the biggest mashup of all science.”

 

Oceanit employs about 160 scientists and engineers and has raised more than $475 million in research and development funds. Its national and international client list includes governments, universities, organizations and businesses.

 

It’s no accident that Oceanit is based in Hawai‘i, and Sullivan credits it as a strength. “Innovation comes from differences, not sameness,” he says. “I think in the culture of Hawai‘i is innovation. The Native Hawaiians that came to Hawai‘i, they innovated to get here, and they innovated when they got here. They were not afraid of technology, afraid of change; they embraced it.”

 

Sullivan is familiar with constant change. Born in California, Sullivan spent his early years in Los Angeles. His family moved to Seattle after his father Thomas was hired as an aircraft mechanic for Boeing, a job that would end during a mass layoff. Sullivan’s family then moved multiple times to Texas, Wyoming and Arizona, before settling down in Colorado.

 

“I went to four different high schools, which brings its own challenges,” Sullivan says. “[My parents] tried to keep everything together, but it was just really hard.”

 

His parents, whose families moved West after the Great Depression, lacked the means to pursue an education, and had five children to care for. “That’s why an education was so important [to me],” he says.

 

With the rapid pace of technology replacing lowerwage service jobs, Sullivan underscores the importance of education.

 

“Adults need to consider lifelong learning,” he says. “That needs to be part of the culture, where we get comfortable with that, and it needs to be more available and affordable.”

 

Sullivan stresses that getting an education for the sake of education isn’t the point, but to build one’s “durability” as industries continue to evolve. It’s the kind of durability that’s helped Sullivan navigate change and tackle life’s challenges.

 

And with the business of problem solving, it seems there’s no end in sight.

 

 

 

The Farthest – Voyager in Space

 

With participation from more than 20 of the original and current mission scientists, engineers and team members, this program tells captivating tales of one of humanity’s greatest achievements in space exploration. From supermarket aluminum foil added at the last minute to protect the craft from radiation, to the near disasters at launch, to the emergency maneuvers to fix a crucial frozen instrument platform, viewers get a sense of how difficult – and rewarding – space exploration can be. NASA’s epic Voyager missions, launched in 1977, revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their dazzling moons and rings. In 2012, Voyager 1 left our solar system and ushered humanity into the interstellar age.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Rachel Carson

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Rachel Carson

 

Meet the scientist whose groundbreaking writings revolutionized our relationship to the natural world. Mary-Louise Parker is the voice of Rachel Carson in this moving and intimate portrait.

 

Preview

 

 

 

NOVA
Iceman Reborn

 

Murdered more than 5,000 years ago, Otzi the Iceman is the oldest human mummy on Earth. Now, newly discovered evidence sheds light not only on this mysterious ancient man, but on the dawn of civilization in Europe.

 

 

NATURE
Leave It to Beavers

 

A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grassroots environmentalists have come to regard beavers as overlooked tools in the effort to reverse the disastrous effects of global warming and worldwide water shortages. View these industrious rodents, once valued for their fur or hunted as pests, in a new light through the eyes of this novel assembly of beaver enthusiasts and “employers” who reveal the ways in which the presence of beavers can transform and revive landscapes.

 

 

ANIMALS WITH CAMERAS:
A Nature Miniseries, Part 2 of 3

 

The cameras capture young cheetahs learning to hunt in Namibia, reveal how fur seals of an Australian island evade the great white sharks offshore, and help solve a conflict between South African farmers and chacma baboons.

 

 

1 2 3