AINA HAINA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A baby humpback whale that was stuck on a reef in shallow waters off east Oahu has died. A fisherman spotted the animal at about 4 p.m. at Kawaikui Beach Park near Aina Haina. He called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for help.
"I saw the whale crashing around by the breakers. It was stuck in a lay net out there," said fisherman Todd Motoyama of Hawaii Kai.
By the time NOAA officials arrived, the animal was no longer entangled. Experts said a net would not have caused the stranding, and that an illness or injury likely brought the calf close to shore.
"It is, however, severely traumatized. It has got cuts and contusions all over its body and trauma to the eyes, probably as a result of the stranding," said David Schofield of NOAA's marine mammal health program.
Schofield estimated that the animal was about 15 feet long and weighed up to 3,000 pounds. NOAA looked for the whale's mother, but she had abandoned her baby.
"Baleen whales like this don't usually do well in rehabilitation, so taking it to a facility is probably not an option," explained Schofield. "The options are to let nature take its course and have it perish on its own, or potentially, euthanasia."
NOAA and the Department of Land and Natural Resources work with the Native Hawaiian community to respectfully handle these types of cases. A cultural practitioner offered an oli, or chant, for the injured calf.
"The Hawaiian culture, in ancient times, whales were not considered just an animal. It was believed they were kupuna. So there are very sensitive issues within our culture," said Matthew Sproat of Honua Consulting.
As the sun set, dozens of people watched helplessly as the whale struggled in the surf.
"I'm choked up because whenever I see something like this, my heart is extremely very heavy," said Sproat.
"We see about 4 or 5 of these a year. While it's very unfortunate, it's kind of the trend given what you see in wild populations of the young that don't survive," Schofield said.
NOAA officials sedated the animal at about 8 p.m. to stop it from struggling. The calf died about 40 minutes later. A necropsy will be done to determine the exact cause of death.
A neonatal calf humpback whale also washed up on Lanai last week, according to Schofield.