HPU scientists unlocking secrets of rare whale - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

HPU scientists unlocking secrets of rare whale

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WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

It beached itself and died on Maui in 2010. Now, studying remains of the Longman's beaked whale is unlocking a wealth of information on the rarely seen marine mammal.

Hawaii Pacific University ocean scientists determined the whale to be a male about one year old, 12 feet from snout to tail, weighing 1,400 pounds. It was sick, suffering from shark bites and a fractured mandible.

Its death gave life to a study of the species seldom seen by man.

"There have been less than ten confirmed strandings worldwide in over 100 years," HPU biology professor Kristi West said.

The Maui beaching was the first stranding of a Longman's beaked whale in the United States. HPU's Marine Mammal Stranding Program is studying tissue from the carcass. The information gleaned will add pages to textbooks.

"Our work represents by far the most in-depth and extensive examination ever done on an individual long beaked whale in the world," West said.

The whale was infected with morbillivirus, similar to measles in humans and distemper in dogs.

"We don't want to set up a situation of alarm that there's marine mammal populations out there that are affected. However, morbillivirus has been known to cause large die-offs of cetaceans around the world and also seal species," said David Schofield, NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Response Program manager.

Longman's beaked whales are deep divers and spend only minutes at the surface before slipping out of site. The size of the head, shape of the jaw, and coloring give it away. But other than that, little is known about the animal.

"We have 19 species that are common. Some of them are very local, don't leave Hawaii. Others are more wandering animals. The beaked whale may be one of those animals," said Brenda Jensen, associate dean of HPU's College of Natural and Computational Sciences.

Longman's beaked whales are so rarely spotted estimates don't exist on how many are out there or whether they are endangered.

The beaching of the whale in Hana was such a colossal find the animal's skeleton is now in the Smithsonian.

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