Rare Blainville’s beaked whale dies off Kamaole

Lifeguards, biologists unable to save marine mammal; cause of the death under study

The Maui News
April 24, 2002

Staff Writer

KIHEI — A Blainville’s beaked whale that experts say is rarely ever seen died Tuesday morning at Kamaole Beach Park I after it beached itself onshore. 

“It was sad. We were attached to it,” said Jeff Meadows, supervising captain with the county Ocean Safety Division in Kihei. 

Meadows said ocean safety officers saw the whale come in close to shore at 8:50 a.m. He and his crew of lifeguards tried to hold the whale in the water to keep it from beaching. 

But for all their efforts, the whale died at about 9:50 a.m.

There was no immediate information on what caused the whale to die, although a necropsy was being performed Tuesday afternoon with the permission of the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

The whale was about 16 feet long, weighing about 1,200 to 1,500 pounds, officials said. Except for cookie cutter shark bites, there were no obvious signs of injury, said Jeff Walters, co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. 

Veterinarian Greg Levine, who works with the fisheries service, came to Maui Tuesday afternoon to perform a necropsy on the whale. But the results were not immediately available. 

John Clark, a dive boat captain, said he may have seen the whale at about 8 a.m. as he was headed out from the Kihei boat ramp, “swimming in circles near the surface.

“That’s why it was so strange. It really wasn’t moving much, but going in circles. Then it swam up to the boat and looked at us.” 

Clark said he could not tell if the whale was ill, but he observed a large number of scars on the whale’s torso. He said he was told by marine specialists that the whales frequently fight, leaving long scars caused by two long teeth that are a distinctive feature of the species. 

Walters said the Blainville’s beaked whale is found in tropical waters, but is not a well-known species. 

“It’s an open ocean species very rarely seen,” he said. “We don’t even know enough to know if they are endangered or not.” 

A prominent feature of the species is a massive pair of teeth rooted in both sides of the lower jaw. The whale’s body may be black or charcoal gray on the back, slightly lighter on the abdomen. 

Margaret Dupree, a National Marine Fisheries Service specialist who coordinates whale stranding reports, said there have been three other reports of Blainville’s beaked whales being beached, all previously occurring in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. 

The most recent, in 1997, involved a female that was pregnant but had been attacked by sharks, she said. 

Like other toothed whales, the beaked whales are thought to feed on squid and fish and may live in social groups of several individuals.

“Although it’s a shame the animal had to die, the basic scientific information we can get from the necropsy might reveal something previously unknown about its biology or life cycle,” said Russell Sparks of the state Division of Aquatic Resources who served as the on-scene coordinator for the stranding.

Meadows said the ocean safety crew thought the whale was a dolphin at first, and called the state aquatics specialists and officers with the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. 

While there were no major injuries, Meadows said the whale had some blood on it possibly from slamming itself on the shore. 

The county lifeguards closed the waters off Kamaole Beach Park I from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. due to the possibility that the dying whale had attracted sharks, but none was reported. 

The dead whale was brought ashore at Kamaole 1, where two construction companies, Goodfellow Bros. and Betsill Brothers Construction, provided heavy equipment to lift the animal. Then scientists transported the animal to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Kihei offices for the examination by Levine. 

Sparks credited county ocean safety officers and state Department of Land and Natural Resources crews for their efforts with the large whale and also with crowd control. 

There was no decision Tuesday evening on the disposition of the remains of the whale, said Claire Cappelle, a sanctuary liaison. The sanctuary was closed Tuesday afternoon for the necropsy.

Return to Whale page

Return to News page

Ho`iho`i Mai