Five stranded pilot whales found on Kauai’s Kalapaki Beach were herded back out to sea this afternoon, while three others did not survive.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine mammal response network team and a number of other agencies handled the mass stranding.
Two of the dead whales were found this morning, while the third washed ashore this afternoon.
“Late this afternoon a third Pilot whale washed ashore in the same location as the previous two. Teams are now responding to this stranding and ultimately to move this whale off the beach for a post mortem exam,” DLNR said in a press release.
A local canoe club, Ocean Safety personnel, NOAA staff and volunteers helped to refloat the five whales and herd them out, said NOAA’s David Schofield, Marine Mammal Health and Response Coordinator. However, they may restrand in the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.
NOAA got the call at 6:30 a.m., but the stranding may have occurred sometime Thursday night. Schofield said there likely were more distressed pilot whales that did not beach themselves.
Necropsies were performed this afternoon on the two that did not survive, Schofield said. Samples of tissue will be sent to a laboratory, and it will take some time before results are available.
Just before 7:30 a.m. today, the Coast Guard station on Kauai received a report of about seven to eight pilot whales beaching at Kalapaki Beach inside Nawiliwili Bay, according to Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources also responded.
The Navy, which has been the subject of litigation over sonar use and its impacts on marine mammals in the past, said in a statement that the National Marine Fisheries Service notified it of the pilot whale stranding this morning. “We are in the process of pulling all training records in the area but right now there is no indication that this incident is related to any naval activities,” a statement from the Navy said.
No major training exercises were reported this week in what’s known as the Hawaii Range Complex.
The Navy said the stranding of a marine mammal “is an unfortunate but routine occurrence in nature. The Navy employs protective measures to minimize the potential for its training and testing activities to harm the marine environment.”
In July of 2004, 150 to 200 melon-headed whales milled in shallow waters of Hanalei Bay, Kauai. NOAA Fisheries said the event coincided with the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises, but evidence precluded a conclusive finding regarding the role of sonar in triggering the event.
In 2015, the Navy settled two legal cases challenging sonar and explosives testing and training off Hawaii and Southern California that a federal court judge determined harmed populations of whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The Navy agreed to a range of mitigation measures, including a ban on using mid-frequency active sonar and explosives for training and testing on the east side of Hawaii island and north of Molokai and Maui to protect Hawaiian monk seals and false killer whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales, the center said..
Video courtesy: Daniel Rapozo