Updated: December 5, 2023
A 120,000-pound sperm whale washed that washed up on the shore of Lydgate Park on Kauaʻi Saturday, prompted agency response.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say the cause of death of the 56-foot-long whale is under investigation, and won’t likely be determined for some time.
Excavators provided by Kaua‘i County and the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, made numerous attempts to free the whale from the shoreline and move it onto the beach after the high tide brought it to shore overnight where it became embedded in wet sand.
Dr. Kristi West and her team from the University of Hawai‘i Health and Stranding Lab were called to the scene to do a preliminary investigation into the whale’s death.
“There are many possible causes including disease, injuries from a vessel strike, entanglement with discarded fishing line, or ingestion of plastic marine debris,” West said.
Experts won’t be able to settle on an exact cause of death until lab tests are returned in several months. “It’s important for us to probe each death of our marine mammals, sentinel animals like this whale, as that can provide information and data that helps inform management decisions and can provide a more complete picture of species health.”
The operation was conducted under the watchful eye of Jamie Thomton, the Kaua‘i Stranding Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries. “Based on how fresh the carcass is, the whale probably died in the last few days,” he said.
Native Hawaiian practitioners also viewed the day’s activities and conducted cultural protocols throughout the day.
Mimi Olry, the Kaua‘i Stranding Response Coordinator with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources said sperm whales don’t wash ashore on Kaua‘i too often. “This one happened at a busy beach park, so many people saw it and watched today’s efforts.”
Thomton said each stranding presents different challenges.
Following the post-mortem exam, crews planned to burry the remains of the whale in an area that has been approved by the DLNR State Historical Preservation Division.
Sperm whales are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and are protected under the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is against both federal and state law to remove any body parts or bones from these whales.
Due to a beached sperm whale, Lydgate Beach on Kauaʻi has been closed.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are responding.
Kauaʻi County officials issued an update on Saturday morning, Jan. 28, saying no swimming will be allowed, and beachgoers are asked to avoid the area.
According to the NOAA website, sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and have one of the widest global distributions of any marine mammal species. NOAA says the species is found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the Arctic and Antarctic.
Adult sperm whales can weigh between 15 and 45 tons and measure in length between 40 and 52 feet. Their lifespan, according to NOAA is up to 60 years.