A necropsy performed on an endangered false killer whale found along the shore at Ka Lae (South Point), Hawaii Island early in November showed that the creature died of natural causes.
The examination, done on Oahu, concluded that abnormal blood clot formations in the heart and lungs of the whale caused sudden breathing difficulties that likely resulted in its death.
Many conditions may have made the whale susceptible to the abnormal blood clot formations, including infections, chronic heart disease or even cancer.
An unhealed open wound examined during the necropsy was first documented in 2004 by Cascadia Research Collective, and suggests that the whale had a weakened immune system.
“The next phase of the investigation will aim to determine if disease was an underlying cause of death, as well as establishing the whale’s age and measuring contaminant levels,” said Kristi West, head of the Hawaii Pacific University’s stranding program. “Study of this animal helps us to better understand threats facing Hawaii’s endangered false killer whales.”
This stranding is rare because only three Hawaiian false killer whales have been reported stranded in the past 18 years. A recent case was an adult male stranded at South Point in 2013 that had five fishing hooks in its stomach.
Justin Cross, who came across the whale’s carcass, said “I really still wasn’t sure who to contact, so I got a hold of Ocean Defender, and they gave me the contact for NOAA.”
NOAA Stranding Coordinator David Schofield said it was the right thing to do since not much is known about the species.
“We’ve only been able to get our hands on three of these animals in the last 17 years,” said Schofield.
The false killer whale species, or “pseudorca crassidens,” is critically endangered. NOAA says there are only about 200 of them left.
The death of an adult female hurts recovery efforts for the critically endangered Hawaiian false killer whale population. This female was first documented in 2004 and re-sighted seven times near Oahu and the Big Island prior to her death. She was always seen without a calf.
To report marine animals in distress, particularly false killer whales, contact NOAA at 888-256-9840.