Wildlife officials are looking into the beaching of several whales and the deaths of at least five on Kauai’s south shore.
Seven pilot whales initially washed up along Kalapaki Beach early Friday morning, north of Nawiliwili Harbor.
The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the stranding from an off-duty Coast Guard member who was out surfing.
NOAA Fisheries, the U.S Coast Guard, Kauai County Fire and Police Departments and the DLNR Divisions of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) responded.
Dozens of residents also showed up, including Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who brought Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to perform a special blessing.
“It’s terrible. It’s emotional,” Carvalho said. “We did our special oli, our blessing for the whales. It’s important to me that we stay connected culturally.”
“It was quite shocking to see this, and I was crying,” said bystander Michelle Lewis. “I was drenched wet from standing on jetty trying to get pictures and witness it. I’ve never seen anything like this before so up close, and there’s nothing anyone could’ve done to help as he was rolling around getting slammed into the rocks.”
Five of the whales were pushed back out into the ocean, but two others died. Then late Friday afternoon, the body of a third whale washed ashore in the same area. Two more were found in the evening, and officials say there could be more.
“These whales are about 15 feet long or greater and probably weigh between 3,000-5,000 pounds, and then we have two younger, much smaller animals, maybe two or three years old and they’re about 1,000 pounds or a little more,” said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries marine mammal response coordinator. “There’s two potentially out there that we know of, but then there may be other animals with the pod, so we really won’t know anything until the morning.”
Kauai County provided heavy machinery to lift the deceased stranded whales off the beach and onto truck trailers provided by DOCARE. The whales were taken to an undisclosed location where autopsies are expected to continue into the night.
“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,” Schofield said. “Postmortem 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 Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, our stranding response partner, we will ensure the postmortem exam and lab tests are thorough and comprehensive.”
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew is conducting flyovers of Kalapaki Bay to further assess the situation and look for any other stranded marine mammals.
NOAA, DLNR and county representatives will continue monitoring the beach and the harbor through at least Saturday in the event other whales become stranded on the beach.
Anyone who sees a stranded whale or other marine animal is urged to call NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9850. Do not try to save the animal yourself.
There are several reasons whales get stranded.
There are natural reasons, such as diseases, viruses, parasites, even old age.
There are also human-related causes, like pollution, entanglements, hooking events, and injury from boats.
Navy sonar or other military events could also disrupt the whales and cause them to beach themselves.
Navy Region Hawaii said in a statement:
“The National Marine Fisheries Service notified the Navy of pilot whales stranding in Nawiliwili Harbor this morning. We are in the process of pulling all training records in the area but right now there is no indication that this incident is related to any naval activities.”
Pilot whales are considered among the most social of all whale species. On the East Coast and in New Zealand, hundreds 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.