These Endangered Sharks Are Suddenly Populating the Shores of Hawaii

Swimming with whale sharks
Swimming with whale sharks | © Krzysztof Odziomek / Shutterstock

There were only 50 whale shark sightings in 2017 and 2018—and that is still more than any other recorded year.

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have been swimming in the world’s oceans for around 60 million years, and now the majestic creatures are on the endangered species list. But that will change if the Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective (HURC) has anything to say about it.

Marine Researcher and Disentanglement Specialist Maria Harvey founded the nonprofit organization in 2016 after spotting an excess amount of whale sharks in Hawaiian waters, which is not a common sighting. The collective began charting the sharks last fall.

“Whale sharks are considered an endangered species,” Harvey told West Hawaii Today about developing HURC. “So if they are in our waters, we need to understand how to protect them and how to preserve them.”

Whale sharks and deep divers

The sharks, which can grow to more than 30 feet in length and weigh more than 20 tons, are the world’s largest extant fish species. However, the gentle giants are victim to bycatching, vessel strikes, and overfishing—they’re also eaten regularly in several places around the world. They swim in tropical oceans and are rarely found in water below 70° Fahrenheit, limiting their habitats. These factors are major contributors to a more than a 50% decline in the species’ population since 1975.

In recent years, lawmakers and environmentalists made strides in deterring both intentional and unintentional ensnaring of whale sharks. But that’s not the case in the U.S. Due to the small percentage regularly seen in American waters, the only restriction is that whale sharks can’t be caught and sold to aquariums.

Whale sharks are the largest extant fish species in the world

HURC hopes to aid in stricter protection of the species, as it becomes the only group in the country conducting whale shark research. In 2017 and the first half of 2018, the nonprofit traced a record 50 whale shark sightings in Hawaii alone.

So far, HURC has received one grant from the California-based PADI Foundation to construct a laser photogrammetry rig. As the organization grows, Harvey hopes to start tagging the sharks’ dorsal fins t0 conduct satellite tracking and employ monofilament tags—which will send a location point every time the animal breaks the ocean surface—to better understand migratory patterns.

Whale sharks are gentle creatures that have created special bonds with fishing communities in Indonesia, are available to swim with in Mexico and Central America, and make for one damn adorable Pixar character. They’re stunning animals, and it would be devastating to see them added to the extinction list.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.