Researchers hope to study more about killer whales in our ocean

Michelle Yuen
Michelle Yuen
Dr. Joe Mobley
Dr. Joe Mobley

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Not a lot is known about Hawaii's resident killer whale population, but this latest encounter with an orca will help researchers learn more about their lives.

Whales, washing up at the beach, doesn't happen very often.

And killer whales are an extremely rare sight on our shores.

In fact, there have only been two other cases reported.

"One in 2004, and one in 1950 off the Big Island," said Dr. Michelle Yuen, a NOAA biologist.

The latest, a female estimated to be between 5 and 15 years old, was first spotted last night.

And she was in bad shape as she flopped around in the shallow waters.

"It was emaciated, several ribs could be seen, shark injuries and lice an indicator of poor health."

While many of us have never even heard about or seen a killer whale in our waters, there is a population of about 250 orcas that call Hawaii home.

Fishermen and scientists have spotted them over the past 15 years.

"They're fairly common now, about 1-6 sightings a year if you count fisherman and diver operators," said Dr. Joe Mobley, a UH shark researcher. "So they are not as rare as we once thought they were."

Because these mammals are rarely seen, even by researchers, this death could be beneficial to the scientific community. An animal autopsy is planned and will give them a chance to learn more about Hawaii's killer whales.

"Strandings are an indication of ocean health, they tell us a lot of what is going on in the open ocean that we can't tell.  It's very important to document population and documenting health of group and observation to confirm species resides in Hawaiian waters."

While you may be concerned, killer whales are in our waters, there have not been any documented cases of these predators attacking humans in the wild.