HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A humpback whale off Hawaii is emaciated and being trailed by sharks, but it's unclear why the marine animal is ill, federal authorities said.
The whale was spotted off Maui on Wednesday, prompting a federal rapid response team to be deployed.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said the whale is very light colored and rough-skinned and is covered in white lice. At least four sharks are trailing the animal.
These are indicators of a whale in distress, but authorities said the animal is not entangled and is not showing any signs of trauma.
"The cause of the animal's poor condition remains a mystery at this time," said sanctuary Superintendent Malia Chow.
She also said it's very unusual to see a humpback whale in Hawaii waters so early. Humpback whales, which are endangered, are typically in Hawaiian waters from November through May.
The sanctuary estimates that as many as 10,000 humpback whales use Hawaiian waters as their principle "wintering ground," migrating here to mate, calve and nurse their young.