Autopsy finds fishing nets, plastic in stomach of whale that beached on Kauai

“We did find a number of things in the stomach of the sperm whale that may have contributed to its death and are certainly disturbing.”
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 6:49 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 12:50 PM HST
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LIHUE (HawaiiNewsNow) – Scientists say marine debris ingested by a 56-foot-long sperm whale likely contributed to its death.

The 60-ton beached whale was found dead on Lydgate Beach on Kauai last Friday and researchers worked about 15 hours on Saturday to find out how it died.

DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources alongside the University of Hawaii’s lab scientists gave an update on their preliminary examination Thursday morning at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The initial autopsy found plastics and other manmade materials like hagfish traps, fishing nets and lines in the whale’s stomach.

According Dr. Kristi West, the Director of the Health and Stranding Lab at UH, normal prey remains like fish and squid are were also found in the whales stomach — but they were undigested.

“We found at least six hagfish traps and we also found significant amounts of at least seven types of fishing net, at least two types of plastic bags, a light protector, fishing line and a float from a net,” West said.

“We did find a number of things in the stomach of the sperm whale that may have contributed to its death and are certainly disturbing.”

The discovery led researchers to conclude that some of the man-made marine debris could have created a blockage in the whale’s digestive system.

Dr. West said that her team and their partners are only able to examine a small number of whales and dolphins that die in Hawaii waters. They think that each individual mammal they are able to examine represents as many of 20 others that ultimately die under circumstances just like this.

NOAA fisheries and Native Hawaiian practitioners were present for the clean-up operation on Saturday and its burial on Sunday to ensure cultural protocols were followed.

As disturbing as some of this evidence is, researchers say it presents a unique opportunity to learn more about how whales and other animals are impacted by plastics and other unnatural marine debris like derelict fishing nets.

Officials said the whale’s official cause of death likely won’t be determined for some time.

DLNR is urging the public to do their part and report distressed, injured and dead marine mammals to the NOAA hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

If you see marine debris in waters, email a photo and location description with your contact information to or You can also call 808-587-0400 to make a report.