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Studying the shark cafe

  • Contributed by Harry Rabin

    ReefGuardians has been doing research with great white sharks, pictured here circling around their new research vessel.

LIHUE — Harry Rabin has been chasing great white sharks in the Pacific Ocean lately, and he’s using the information he’s gathered to help with ocean conservation in Hawaii.

He’s been investigating the “shark cafe” — a mysterious rendezvous point for great white sharks migrating from California to Hawaii and back.

“They have been coming to the islands for forever. That’s where they vacation,” Rabin said. “They go to the shark cafe, which is halfway, and then a bunch of them head over to Hawaii.”

Rabin is one of the founding members of ReefGuardians Hawaii, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the marine environment and to educating kids about being responsible with resources.

While the organization started in Hawaii, Rabin and his team have decided to expand their focus, and partnering with the California State University – Long Beach Shark Lab was the first step.

“What we did was expand ReefGuardians’ reach. There are issues here (in California) with conservancy and endangered species, so there’s overlap,” Rabin said.

In October, ReefGuardians secured a research vessel for the California area, and now they’re filming footage and helping supply tagging resources for the work with CSULB, as well as Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Their footage is also going coast-to-coast on the Weather Channel on Dec. 30 at 9 p.m., with more TV shows on tap for the future.

While working with CSULB, ReefGuardians team members filmed a shark nursery with more than 16 great whites, ranging from four feet to nine feet in length.

“We helped provide resources for tagging six of them to track where they go,” Rabin said.

The new ReefGuardians research boat is equipped with the receivers for those tags, as well as filming equipment.

“One of our missions is to figure out exactly what they are doing (at the shark cafe). It’s like a desert devoid of life and for some mysterious reason, adults and now juveniles migrate there,” Rabin said.

The research gathered during the shark cafe mission will be used to further education and understanding of one of the ocean’s apex predators.

“Knowledge reduces fear, especially where sharks are concerned,” Rabin said. “So we’re out there educating people and doing seminars.”

And while they’re honing their skills and focus with the great white shark research, Rabin said ReefGuardians team members are watching for ways to help further their goals in Hawaii.

One example is their fundraising campaign for their shark project — which garnered about $40,000 from Californians who live in the area around where the juvenile sharks hang out.

“It’s the same approach we need to take on Kauai, with the reef croaking right next door to where people live,” Rabin said. “Those people want to be involved in the change.”

ReefGuardians was born out of Rabin’s film production company and a desire to work with researchers in the field.

“I have to have science (for my documentaries), and the scientists we work with have to be equipped. It’s synergistic for us to work in the environment with the researchers,” he said.

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