HANALEI — A 16-foot sub adult pilot whale was pulled from the water at Waioli Beach Park after it died Friday.
Terry Lilley, of Hanalei, a marine biologist who has been studying coral disease on the North Shore, said he was on the scene early Friday when the whale was still alive and washing up to shore.
“This whale was alive and breathing at 6 a.m. this morning,” Lilley said. “It was sideways and just rolling in. It was already dying and there was no way to save it.”
The popular beach on Hanalei Bay was crowded with hundreds of people who watched as the mammal was moved from the shoreline to a trailer and taken from the scene just before noon.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources took charge of removing the whale, using heavy equipment from the County of Kauai and a DLNR trailer. It was unknown if the whale was a male or female.
NOAA Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Region spokesperson Wende Goo, said the death is being investigated.
“Arrangements are being made for a necropsy and other procedures,” Goo said. “We currently do not have enough information to be able to say how the whale died.”
Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement personnel secured the site to safely recover the whale from where a large crowd watched.
Officials on scene discussed with volunteers the appearance of what looked like bite marks, possibly from a type of dogfish shark that gets its name from the way they attach and bite flesh with their snout, leaving deep, round marks on its prey.
Jean Souza, Hawaii programs coordinator for the Humpback Whale Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary, spoke to bystanders after the recovery to explain what had occurred and what would happen next to the whale. She said it is not uncommon for whales to beach there.
“Many times when they strand here in Hawaii, it is not like on the Mainland where a big tidal shift might cause them to get confused,” Souza said. “Most of the stranding that happens in Hawaii is because something is wrong with the animal.”
The mammal looked fresh with the skin intact and not yet decomposing, she said.
“That is the reason for quickly getting it off the beach to ship it to Oahu, for NOAH Fisheries to conduct a complete necropsy,” Souza said. “Because it is fairly fresh that means the chances are good for getting good information about tissue and structure.”
Lilley said the death could be a result of the military’s RIMPAC exercises going on in Hawaiian waters. The fact that a young and otherwise healthy whale died showing no visible signs of disease or attack should make military sonar and other war game activities suspect, he said.
Lilley said the military has a permit to injure or kill whales and dolphins during the ongoing multinational maritime exercise.
“This pilot whale has great body weight, and shows no visible infections, no problems with its mouth, and just two round wounds on the side that look like gaff wounds,” Lilley said. “This is a very healthy adult pilot whale with good weight, no obvious problems.”
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nick Sherrouse said there is no indication that the loss of this animal was caused by naval activities and it would be premature to speculate.
“The Navy cares about the ocean environment, and we are fully cooperating with the National Marine Fisheries Service on the investigation,” Sherrouse said.