Work crews removed the carcass of a dead sperm whale from Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor Saturday.
The remains of the 55-foot whale was towed to the harbor Friday evening. Work to remove it began shortly after dawn Saturday.
Out in the open ocean, a whale carcass attracted sharks. At Heeia Kea, it attracted onlookers who could bear the smell.
"We're looking for sharks following it," said Aulani Partika, who came with her family, including two children Friday night. "we're looking for some educational fun. So it's pretty cool."
We asked Partika's four-year-old son, Colby, what it smelled like. "Stinky," he replied.
"We were standing in the wrong place for a little while," said Tatiana Fox of Kapolei, who came with her family Saturday morning. "We were getting the draft of the decomposing of the whale."
But the whale was an attraction for researchers, including Kristi West, an assistant professor of biology at Hawaii Pacific University. At one point, she stepped into the whale's midsection to get samples.
West determined the whale had been dead for "several weeks, so he's certainly been dead a while. So that limits what we can learn from him, but it's still an opportunity to collect samples from Hawaii sperm whales."
According to West, getting samples is a rare opportunity.
"Certainly these sperm whales are found really far offshore, really logistically difficult to follow and study with a boat, so the chance to actually get some samples from an animal like this, we're gonna take advantage of that and get to learn what we can," she said.
The carcass was first spotted about a day or so ago some four miles off Kaneohe Bay. Winds and currents brought it to a spot about 200 yards offshore of Kualoa Regional Park, near Chinaman's Hat.
John Morgan, president of Kualoa Ranch, went out on his standup paddleboard and took some photos of the whale as it floated offshore.
"Decomposing," he said about the carcass. "There was a little bit of the guts sticking out of it, but I didn't get close enough to touch it."
The state quickly took action to keep the carcass from washing ashore.
"When these animals land on shore it's obviously very smelly," said David Schofield with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It costs a lot of money to remove them. In many cases, we can't remove them if they're stuck on a reef or stuck in an area that's not accessible with heavy equipment."
"We were lucky in that it didn't get into shallower water near Chinaman's Hat," said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "If it had grounded there, it literally would have taken weeks to get it off of the reef there."
Aila estimated the cost of the whale carcass removal at between five and ten thousand dollars. Still, he said, it would have cost far more if it had become stranded on a reef or on a remote shoreline.
Aila also defended the decision to tow the carcass to shore, rather than taking it out to sea. "If we had taken it 20 miles out to sea and let it go, it would have ended back up on shore at Kualoa, or possibly the Haleiwa side of the island," he said.
"Towing it back out to sea is not a good choice because the weather is changing with Kona winds coming up, and it would probably come back into shore again," said Randy Cates, who piloted the small boat that brought the whale in Friday.
The whale was taken to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, where it will be buried.