No obvious cause of death for whales in Kauai mass stranding

Wildlife officials still don’t know what caused several whales to beach themselves on Kauai last week.

In the early morning hours on Friday, Oct. 13, seven pilot whales initially washed up along Kalapaki Beach, north of Nawiliwili Harbor. Five whales were pushed back out into the ocean, but two others died.

Late in the afternoon, the body of a third whale washed ashore in the same area, and two more bodies were found in the evening.

Personnel from the University of Hawaii, NOAA Fisheries, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and volunteers worked together to conduct a necropsy, or post-mortem examination, on all five whales to investigate the cause of stranding.

Preliminary results showed no obvious cause of death. Wildlife officials have yet to figure out why the stranding occurred.

Samples were taken and sent out to labs for further analysis. Histologic examination of the tissues may provide more insight into the general health of these animals as it may relate to possible infectious pathogens, toxins, trauma, and individual organ function.

NOAA worked with cultural practitioners on Kauai for appropriate handling of the whale remains.

Officials say mass strandings among pilot whales are fairly common. Since they are social animals, when one individual strands, others tend to follow, though not necessarily from the same cause.

Here’s what officials know so far:

The Navy confirmed that there was no mid-frequency active sonar in the area at the time of the stranding. The Navy also confirmed there were no in-water explosives used in the area.

UH and DLNR are working to search for the presence of rodenticide in liver tissue of the whales. Diphacinone was applied at Lehua Island about one month ago. The results of those tests will take some time to return.

The NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer was underway off Honolulu on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to undergo an annual at-sea safety inspection. The ship’s seafloor imaging systems, including its multi-beam echosounder, were not in use during these exercises.

No other NOAA ships were underway around the Hawaiian Islands between Oct. 10 and 16. Okeanos Explorer departed Honolulu on Oct. 16 and is en route to Balboa, Panama.

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