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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 27, 2010

Necropsy identifies dead beaked whale on Maui

By Harry Eagar
Maui News

A necropsy has identified the whale that swam onto Hamoa Beach and died Monday as a male Cuvier's beaked whale, about 1 to 3 years old.

The whale's stomach and intestines were empty, and that tended to confirm the initial suspicions that the whale had been ill for some time, said David Schofield of the Marine Mammal Response Unit of the National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday in Honolulu.

The whale had about 20 bites from cookie-cutter sharks, mostly on the belly, suggesting that it had been hanging at the surface, not eating. Beaked whales normally spend much time at great depths, hunting squid.

Tissue samples were sent to Mainland laboratories, but it will be some months before the pathologist's reports are back.

The necropsy did not determine whether the whale was diseased or perhaps had some congenital issues.

The body of the 12-foot animal was in excellent condition, Schofield said, except that both upper and lower rostrum parts (jaw and beak) were shattered. This could have happened in the last minutes of its life, he said.

"The whale may have crashed into rocks or the sand bottom."

The first calls about the whale came in around 2:30 p.m. Monday. Federal fisheries officials began to prepare for a rescue mission.

If possible, Schofield and a veterinarian would have stabilized the whale and shipped it to the University of Hawaii-Hilo, which has a hospital for wounded dolphins and small whales.

"However, after these preliminary necropsy findings, it's clear that it was unlikely that the whale would have been a candidate for rehabilitation, due to the severity of injury to the rostrum and other medical concerns," Schofield wrote. "What is learned from this whale will provide better insight on how to care for injured or sick whales in the future."

The whale died within minutes after the first sighting report Monday.

Beaked whales do not usually come close to shore and are rare in any case, but occasionally one is found in Maui County.

In April 2002, a Blainville's beaked whale, similar in appearance to the Cuvier's whale, beached itself and died at Kamaole Beach Park I in Kihei.