Sperm whale carcass beached on Oahu offers rare chance for scientists

A sperm whale carcass is back on shore on Oahu, and officials are trying to determine how to...
A sperm whale carcass is back on shore on Oahu, and officials are trying to determine how to dispose of it. (Image: DLNR)
Published: Jan. 29, 2019 at 1:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The sperm whale carcass that just won’t go away is now bringing in new information to scientists.

The carcass, which has been towed out to sea twice, is back onshore near Campbell Industrial Park. And officials now say rather than towing it back out to sea, they plan to leave the carcass where it is.

“The agencies involved have made the decision to leave the carcass in place, to let nature take its course and to let us learn from this carcass,” said David Schofield, NOAA marine mammal response coordinator, in a news release.

Schofield added, “We continue to ask people not to disturb this carcass, as both state and federal laws could come into play. Additionally, due to the possible presence of bones and tissues in the nearshore waters, there could be continued shark activity.”

In the meantime, researchers are trying to find out what killed the whale, and studying the carcass to learn more about the species.

Among the topics they’re researching: Sperm whale diets and how their carcasses degrade in the environment.

Scientists are also taking a look at its bones, stomach contents and have collected some teeth.

“From a cultural standpoint we always look at the whale’s best interest, as they not only represent a large marine mammal, but in Hawaiian culture they represent our kupuna who traveled from far, distant places,” said Noelani Puniwai, an assistant professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa, in a news release.

“They are amazing messengers, as we can learn so much from them and help us to determine our own roles in the environment.”

The whale carcass was first spotted in Kewalo Basin on Jan. 10.

Despite three attempts by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to tow it back out into the ocean, currents continued to send it back to Oahu shores.

Whale species in Hawaii are protected by state and federal laws.

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