5 Pilot Whales Dead After Beaching Event on Kaua‘i
UPDATE 10:45 a.m. Oct. 14, 2017: DLNR officials say no additional Pilot whales beached themselves on Kaua‘i overnight. Post mortem examinations will continue today on five whales that stranded Friday on Kalapaki Beach.
Teams will continue monitoring the surrounding shoreline and Nawiliwili Harbor for the presence of two additional whales spotted by ocean users and community members yesterday morning. It’s hoped they went out to sea.
On Friday morning, Oct. 13, several pilot whales beached themselves onto a beach on the north side of Nawiliwili Harbor on Kaua‘i.
NOAA Fisheries, the US Coast Guard, Kaua‘i County Fire and Police Departments and the DLNR Divisions of Aquatic Resources and Conservation and Resources Enforcement joined concerned community members and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to respond to the beaching event and attended to two Pilot whales that died on Kalapaki Beach.
Kaua‘i County provided heavy machinery to lift the deceased stranded whales off the beach and onto truck trailers provided by DOCARE. The whales were then taken to an undisclosed location where autopsies continued into the night.
At 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, NOAA reported that five Pilot whales were reported as beaching themselves on Kaua‘i, more than the two from earlier. Officials with DLNR say post-mortem’s on all five whales are being conducted to try and determine the cause of death.
The whales were first noticed by an off duty Coast Guard member who was out surfing. Station personnel immediately called the local NOAA representative on Kaua‘i for direction and response. Coast Guard personnel were directed to monitor the whales and prevent anyone from touching them prior to the arrival of the NOAA staff within 15 minutes.
Once on scene, NOAA personnel evaluated the animals and directed Coast Guard and Kaua‘i Fire Department personnel on the proper way to reintroduce the animals to the ocean. Once in the water Kaua‘i Fire Department personnel and volunteers aboard outrigger canoes escorted the whales out of the harbor.
David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator in Hawai‘i said, “We have no indication of a cause of death at this time. Disease and old age are common causes of death for whales, but it’s too soon to know. Post mortem exams occasionally reveal a likely cause, but more often they are inconclusive, and we must then wait for lab test results. Working with the UH Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, our stranding response partner, we will ensure the post mortem exam and lab tests are thorough and comprehensive.”
Native Hawaiians offered pules for the pair of whales that stranded themselves at Kalapaki Beach, it’s expected additional pule will be offered prior to their burial. Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho said, “It was a very emotional scene this morning at Kalapaki, and it leaves us very heavy-hearted that we could not save all the whales. At the same time, everyone on the beach pulled together with a sense of aloha to help the whales in a way that was respectful and professional.”
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Barbers Point also conducted fly-overs of Kalapaki Bay to further assess the situation, and looked for any other stranded marine mammals. NOAA, DLNR and county representatives will continue monitoring the beach and the harbor through at least today in the event other whales become stranded on the beach.
Gregg Howald, Director of Global and External Affairs for Island Conservation, the organization that led recent rat eradication efforts on Lehua Island, said, “As conservationists committed to preserving wildlife, we are deeply saddened by these mortalities. We know, with the highest degree of confidence that the Lehua Restoration Project and the rodenticides applied in that project have virtually no chance of contributing to the whales’ demise. The likelihood of any impact to pilot whales is so unlikely, it is bordering on the impossible. The good people of Hawai‘i have had the good fortune to observe natural wildlife in paradise for hundreds of years, and they can tell us that Pilot Whale beachings are quite common.”
DLNR said Pilot whales are considered the most social of all whale species. On the East Coast and in New Zealand hundreds of them have been known to become stranded on beaches at one time. Scientists believe their very close social connections may account for behavior that suggests when one member of the family gets sick or in trouble all the others will stick with them.