Expert: No obvious reasons for mysterious whale death

The Maui News
April 25, 2002

Staff Writer

KIHEI — An examination of a rare Blainville’s beaked whale found no obvious reasons for the whale’s death on the shoreline near Kamaole Beach Park I Tuesday morning, a veterinarian said Wednesday. 

Veterinarian Gregg Levine, who headed a team of specialists conducting a necropsy of the whale, said there were “no visual abnormalities in all the organ systems.” 

It will be several weeks, if not months, for more details to be available from laboratory examinations of tissue and other specimens taken from the whale, he said. 

“There is only so much we can see with the naked eye,” Levine said. 

But he said there were no obvious signs of interaction with humans that might have contributed to the whale’s death, and “nothing out of the range of normal” in the whale’s physical condition, he said. 

The whale, a species that is almost never seen by people, came ashore at about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday near Kamaole Beach Park I. Maui County ocean safety officers attempted to keep it from beaching itself, but the animal died about an hour later. 

John Clark, who runs Dive & Sea Maui, said he had seen the whale at about 8 a.m. about 1,000 yards off of the Kihei boat ramp as he led a dive tour to Molokini. 

“We didn’t know what it was, so we stopped,” he said. The whale had been listlessly swimming in figure eights, but then swam up to the boat, Clark said. 

“He just came up and looked at us,” he said. 

Clark was able to get several photographs of the whale from the surface and underwater, although he said he did not approach the animal “because I didn’t know what it was.” 

Levine said the whale was an adult male, just shy of 14 feet long and weighing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds. 

While he was saddened that the whale had died, the information from the necropsy will be useful to marine biologists in understanding the rarely seen species, he said. 

“This type of data is invaluable,” he said. 

There are at least three species of beaked whales thought to frequent Hawaii waters, but little is known about them, according to reference materials. They are rarely seen, tending to remain in the open ocean. Like other toothed whales, they are thought to feed on squid and fish, and may live in social groups of several individuals. 

Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. performed a blessing for the creature before its remains were taken out to sea from Maalaea Harbor on Wednesday afternoon. Maxwell also had performed a blessing before the necropsy was started Tuesday. 

He said he was pleased that the remains of the whale were returned to the ocean. 

“What is important in this, although it’s just an animal, the proper respect was given to it. That’s all I ask; our culture is black and white,” he said. 

The whale’s carcass was taken out by state aquatics specialists more than five miles offshore, said Russell Sparks, a state education specialist with the Aquatic Resources Division. 

The burial at sea was performed only after biologists had studied currents in the channel to be sure the remains would not drift back into shore, he said.

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Ho`iho`i Mai