KEKAHA — Kekaha resident Kevin Rogers was walking the beach with his neighbor and a cup of coffee Monday morning, searching for monk seals they thought might be hauled out on the sand.
Instead, they ran across the carcass of a young humpback whale. Immediately, they reported it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“At first my friend, he thought it was a dying baby whale and I went up to it,” Rogers said. “I quickly realized it was completely dead.The whale is probably 8 to 10 feet long. It’s definitely a baby and it’s body is full of lacerations. It’s missing a fin, there was maybe something nibbling on it at some point.”
Located just across the street from Rogers’ house, on the beach near St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, responders included officials with NOAA, the Kauai Fire Department and Kauai police. The Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Conservation and Resources was also notified.
“It’s likely this year’s calf,” said David Schofield, stranding coordinator for the Pacific Islands Regional Office, Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.
Kauai County Ocean Safety officials helped retrieve the carcass from the beach and brought it to the Pacific Missile Range Facility base for necropsy.
“A UH (University of Hawaii) stranding team and an NOAA contract veterinarian flew over there today from Oahu,” Schofield said Monday afternoon. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they’ll be working through the night.”
Samples will be taken as the team works to determine cause of death.
Rogers says he thinks the lacerations on the carcass point to a run-in with a boat or a net, but Schofield said he’s more inclined to think the calf was dead in the water for awhile and the lacerations are due to shark predation.
“It’s too early to tell, we have to wait for the necropsy to be sure,” Schofield said. “I’d suggest if you had a vessel propeller, you’d see other striations along the body.”
By about 4 p.m. on Monday, three tiger sharks had been reported around the Kekaha beaches, all between 12 and 15 feet in length. According to ocean safety officials, the beach will remain closed until at least this afternoon.
The last time a whale was reported on a Kauai beach was in October 2017, when a group of pilot whales stranded themselves on Kalapaki Beach and five of them died.
After the necropsy on those whales, wildlife officials couldn’t find an obvious cause of death.
Kekaha Beach was the site of another young humpback whale that washed ashore in 2009. That whale was about 17 feet long and had abnormalities in organ systems, according to NOAA.
That animal was moved to PMRF for necropsy as well.
While waiting for more information from officials, Rogers said he thinks it’s a good time to emphasize the dangers boats and fishing nets pose to whales, both young and old.
“People need to be aware that nets and boats can kill these babies this time of year,” Rogers said.
Schofield pointed out that the carcass washing up on the beach could lead to some answers about why there have been fewer reported humpback whale sightings in past years.
“It’s important that we send the team over and try to get as thorough a necropsy as possible, because it could give us an understanding of why we are seeing less humpback whales this year,” he said.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org