Stranded pilot whales at Kalapaki Beach Friday morning. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Magers

NOAA Fisheries, the U.S Coast Guard, Kaua‘i County Fire and Police Departments and the DLNR Divisions of Aquatic Resources and Conservation and Resources Enforcement joined concerned community members and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to respond to a beaching event and attending to two pilot whales that died on Kalapaki Beach on the north side of Nawiliwili Harbor Friday morning, according to a DLNR news release.

Late in the afternoon, a third pilot whale washed ashore in the same location as the previous two. Teams responded to this stranding and ultimately moved this whale off the beach for a post mortem exam.

At about 8:30 p.m. Friday, NOAA reported that two additional whales beached themselves, bringing to the total to five pilot whales that had been reported as beaching themselves on Kauai. Post-mortem examinations on all five whales are being conducted to try and determine the cause of death, according to NOAA.

Kaua‘i 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,” said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator in Hawai‘i.

Post mortem exams occasionally reveal a likely cause, but more often they are inconclusive, and we must then wait for lab test results, Schofield said, adding working with the UH Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, NOAA’s stranding response partner, they will ensure the post mortem exam and lab tests are thorough and comprehensive.

“As conservationists committed to preserving wildlife, we are deeply saddened by these mortalities,” said Gregg Howald, Director of Global and External Affairs for Island Conservation, the organization that led recent rat eradication efforts on Lehua Island. “We know, with the highest degree of confidence that the Lehua Restoration Project and the rodenticides applied in that project have virtually no chance of contributing to the whales’ demise”

Howald added the likelihood of any impact to pilot whales is so unlikely, it is bordering on the impossible.

“The good people of Hawai‘i have had the good fortune to observe natural wildlife in paradise for hundreds of years, and they can tell us that pilot whale beachings are quite common,” Howald said.

Coast Guard Station Kaua‘i received initial notification of the stranding from an off duty Coast Guard member who was out surfing. Station personnel immediately called the local NOAA representative on Kaua‘i for direction and response.

Coast Guard personnel were directed to monitor the whales and prevent anyone from touching them prior to the arrival of the NOAA staff within 15 minutes. Once on scene, NOAA personnel evaluated the animals and directed Coast Guard and Kaua‘i Fire Department personnel on the proper way to reintroduce the animals to the ocean.

Once in the water, Kaua‘i Fire Department personnel and volunteers aboard outrigger canoes escorted the whales out of the harbor.

“We appreciate the public’s concern for these animals and the strong partnership we have with NOAA and other agencies to address strandings,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Winiarski, officer-in-charge Coast Guard Station Kaua‘i. “NOAA are the experts and the lead agency in these cases. They have the veterinarians, personnel and authority to properly handle marine mammal strandings. The public can best help stranded marine animals by contacting NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9850. Serious injury can result when untrained people attempt to hold or move these animals.”

At Kalapaki Beach native, Hawaiians offered pules for the pair of whales that stranded and it’s expected additional pule will be offered prior to their burial.

“It was a very emotional scene this morning at Kalapaki, and it leaves us very heavy-hearted that we could not save all the whales,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said. “But at the same time, everyone on the beach pulled together with a sense of aloha to help the whales in a way that was respectful and professional. Mahalo to the state DLNR, the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Kaua‘i Marriott, and our responding personnel with the Kaua‘i Police Department, Kaua‘i Fire Department, Ocean Safety Bureau, and all the volunteers involved in the care, concern, and assistance of the whales.”

A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Barbers Point also is conducting fly-overs 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 tomorrow in the event other whales become stranded on the beach.

Pilot whales are considered among the most social of all whale species. On the East Coast and in New Zealand hundreds of them 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.

Kauai Pilot Whale Stranding from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.

Discover more from ForKauaiOnline

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.