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Big Island scientist follows shark tracks on Shark Week

Updated: 
August 13, 2014 - 12:05am

Last year, Hawaii Island resident Michael Domeier helped catch and tag several female great white sharks, to see if he could discern where the ocean giants go to give birth.

Highlights of those efforts aired last August, during Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, on a program called “Spawn of Jaws.”

Thanks to the long gestation period for sharks — 18 months — viewers can tune in tonight to see whether Domeier was able to follow the same sharks to their pupping grounds. Domeier filmed a sequel, “Spawn of Jaws: The Birth,” which airs at 7 p.m.

Domeier, who is the president of the Marine Conservation Science Institute, has tagged about 100 such sharks during his career.

“The sharks (featured in the program) did some really surprising things,” he said. “These two sharks did something the other 98 never did. There will be some new white shark tracks never seen before.”

Domeier said he did find a new nursery ground in Mexico. He didn’t want to say too much more about what they found, because he didn’t want to spoil the show for viewers.

Capturing and tagging the sharks was a challenge highlighted in last year’s special. Doing so takes “a really big hook, ropes, floats and then it’s man against shark,” he said.

Viewers will see Domeier face new challenges in this year’s program, including problems with the tracking tags.

“Nothing went right,” he said. “At the pupping grounds, (one shark’s) tag goes quiet.”

The tags only send out data when the shark’s dorsal fin is above the water’s surface. Every time the shark would come close to the mainland, she would go under the water, cutting off the data stream.

In addition to his two Shark Week programs, Domeier was also featured in two seasons of a National Geographic Channel program several years ago.

“Making television isn’t fun,” he said. “It’s hard to sit under the lights with the camera rolling” and repeat the same lines over and over. He said he’s also a bit too impatient for the production process.

The show also features actor Paul Walker, an actor Domeier met on the production of another program, and who died last year. Domeier said he was initially skeptical of Walker’s presence on that set, but came to learn that the actor was genuinely interested in marine biology and marine conservation. Walker was present for the first part of filming this year’s Shark Week program, but died before it was completed.

Domeier said after Walker’s death, he wasn’t sure he would finish the program. Then he decided Walker would have wanted him to, and went ahead with production.

“Paul became my friend,” Domeier said. “He was very sincere, very passionate.”