HONOLULU (KHON2) — According to Kauai officials, Lydgate Beach is closed due to a beached whale.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Land and Natural Resources and Kauai County officials are currently responding to the deceased sperm whale.
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According to the DLNR, the whale was first reported on the reef Friday evening and as high tide came in, the whale was brought along with it.
Native Hawaiian practitioners have been conducting cultural protocols as they move the 56-foot -long and 60-ton carcass onto the beach, the DLNR said.
Spectators are asked to not cross the yellow tape at the scene.
Swimming is not allowed and officials are asking the public to avoid the area if possible.
Shark warning signs are posted at Lydgate Beach.
The University of Hawaii Health and Stranding Lab team is investigating the cause of death as it is unknown at this time.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources said that they do not know the cause of death for the sperm whale.
It is estimated that the whale is 120,000 pounds and 56 feet long. It appeared on the reed fronting Lydgate park when it was brought to shore overnight by the high tides.
With the help of NOAA and the DLNR, a large excavator joined two county machines in an attempt to free the whale from the shoreline.
Moving the whale’s body to dry ground is how the University of Hawai’i Health and Stranding Lab will investigate the cause of death.
“There are many possible causes including disease, injuries from a vessel strike, entanglement with discarded fishing line or ingestion of plastic marine debris,” explained Dr. Kristi West from the University of Hawai‘i Health and Stranding Lab.
According to UH, there is no way of determining the cause of death until the lab results come back, which could take 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,” said West.
Jamie Thomton, the Kaua‘i Stranding Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries oversaw today’s work. Thornton stated that “based on how fresh the carcass is, the whale probably died in the last few days.”
According to DLNR, Native Hawaiian practioners also oversaw today’s work and conducted appropriate cultural protocols for dealing with scenarios such as this.
Whales do not normally wash up on shore on Kaua’i, said Mimi Olry, the Kaua‘i Stranding Response Coordinator with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources. “This one happened at a busy beach park, so many people saw it and watched today’s efforts,” she explained.
As the work progressed, DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement were forced to tell gawkers to leave as the beach park is officially closed. DLNR said this is as much for their safety as it is for respect for the work being done.
There are a few things to take from this tragedy.
First, Thornton said that strandings like these present their own individual problems and that getting the whale to dry land will move the post-mortem exam along more smoothly.
The remains of the whale will be buried in an area which has been approved by the DLNR State Historical Preservation Division to ensure no iwi kūpuna will be disturbed.
Also, this scenario has demonstrated the intense and high level of collaboration that is possible between federal, state and county agencies.
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Finally, sperm whales are an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. They are protected under the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. So, keep in mind that it is illegal to remove any body parts from the whale’s body or bones.
The beach is scheduled to reopen to the public on Wednesday, Feb. 1.