Pilot Whale Stranding on Kauai

October 19, 2017 (updated 10/20/2017)

On October 13, 2017, the Pacific Islands Regional Office's Marine Mammal Response team responded to five pilot whales that unfortunately stranded and died at Kalapaki Beach, Lihue, Kauai. Personnel from the University of Hawaii (UH), NOAA Fisheries, Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and volunteers worked together to conduct a necropsy (post-mortem examination) on all five whales to investigate the cause of stranding. The preliminary necropsy results showed no obvious cause of death. Samples were taken and sent out to labs for histology (the study of microscopic structure in tissue) analysis. Histologic examination of these tissues may provide more insight into the general health of these animals as it may relate to possible infectious pathogens, toxins, trauma, and individual organ function.

At this time, we have not yet determined a reason for the stranding. Mass strandings for this particular species are fairly common globally. Since pilot whales are social, when one individual strands, others tend to follow (not necessarily for the same cause of stranding).

  1. The Navy confirmed that there was no mid-frequency active sonar in the area at the time of the stranding. The Navy also confirmed there were no in-water explosives used in the area.
  2. UH and DLNR are working to search for the presence of rodenticide (diphacinone was applied at Lehua Island about one month ago) in liver tissue of the whales. The results of those tests will take some time to return.
  3. NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer was underway off Honolulu on Thursday, October 12, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hawaii Time to undergo an annual at-sea safety inspection. The ship's seafloor imaging systems, including its multi-beam echosounder, were not in use during these exercises.
  4. No other NOAA ships were underway around the Hawaiian Islands between October 10 and October 16, 2017. Okeanos Explorer departed Honolulu on October 16 and is en route to Balboa, Panama.
  5. NOAA worked with cultural practitioners on Kauai for appropriate handling of the whale remains.

Report sightings or emergencies for whales, monk seals, dolphins, and turtles to: 888-256-9840 and for non-emergencies, email: RespectWildlife@noaa.gov