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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Odoriferous corpse buried

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

David Nichols, a marine conservation specialist for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, took a video of the dead whale yesterday before it was removed from the beach at Punalu‘u.

Photos by BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Removing the 15-ton dead humpback whale required the use of both a backhoe and an excavator in an effort to avoid puncturing the carcass and spilling toxic liquids on the beach. The whale was buried at Kualoa Ranch.

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A lingering tell-tale odor was all that remained after a crew spent two hours removing a 15-ton, rotting whale carcass from a Punalu'u beach yesterday.

But local beach users said they won't be going back in the water soon.

"We'll wait three or four days just in case of sharks," said Wayne Paakaula, 19. "They're still around."

The carcass, of a yearling humpback whale, was reported on the reef last Thursday and had drifted to shore by Saturday, but because of the holiday weekend its removal could not be arranged until Tuesday.

Paakaula and about 24 residents, visitors, reporters and workers watched as machinery rolled the bulky remains 50 yards to a waiting dump truck.

Like a giant rotting water balloon, fluids inside the behemoth sloshed back and forth as the excavator coaxed it down the beach. Because it was missing its head, the animal's innards began to spill out, contained in translucent sacks the size of large garbage bags.

The goal was to keep the remains from splitting open and allowing the rancid stock brewing in the cavity of the giant from contaminating the beach, said Randy Cates, of Cates International Marine Salvage. His company coordinated the removal with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Even the slightest release of any fluids from the carcass carried a noxious gas on the breeze, causing people to exclaim and pull away as the excavator pushed, rolled and lifted the body slowly toward its ride, a gleaming white dump truck capable of holding 78,810 pounds.

"I'm glad to get rid of this 'cause then people no come around here," said Conrad Canha, who lives on the beach where the whale carcass came ashore. Canha said the whale brought unwanted attention to the small community of beachfront homes about a half-mile from Punalu'u Beach Park.

The smell was like someone had defecated on the beach but with the trade winds the smell was blown away from his home, he said.

"Last night it wen' switch so kind of bad now," Canha said, as he watched the progress of the excavator.

Eventually a front-end loader was called in because the bucket on the excavator, with its claw-like scoop and gripping "thumb" threatened to puncture the carcass, which would cause it to split resulting in a mess and unimaginable stench, Cates said.

Working together, the front-end loader and the excavator lifted the carcass and the truck backed up under it. The remains slid into the truck with a thump, releasing the foulest odor, which followed it all the way to Kualoa Ranch, where the animal was buried free of charge as a donation to the state.

David Nichols, DLNR marine conservation specialist, said there's no way to tell how the whale died but he was sure it was not the same creature that was entangled and spotted off Kailua Jan. 10.

"This animal is too far decomposed to be that animal that was sighted last week," Nichols said. "So we know it's not the same."

He estimated the removal cost at about $5,000.

Cates said the removal was easy compared with the 11 others he's done. Removing the carcass from the beach is the best solution, he said, adding that in the past decomposing whale bodies were buried on the beach or taken back out to sea where they might turn up on other beaches.