Although Hawaii’s Pacific humpback whale population doesn’t usually begin to show up in the islands in any numbers until December, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) are asking recreational boaters to notify authorities immediately if they see a dead whale floating at sea.
Each year, the DLNR said, approximately one to four sperm whale carcasses drift ashore in Hawaii, particularly from May through August. The data also suggests they are coming in to Hawaiian waters from east and north directions, which results in most carcasses landing on the windward side of the islands.
“Early reporting allows us to locate, then tow a floating carcass away from the islands,” said David Schofield, NOAA’s Regional Marine Mammal Health and Response Program manager. “This is often much easier and less expensive than removing it once it comes aground on a shoreline or reef.”
“It is critical that we do our best to keep these whales out at sea to avoid attracting large tiger sharks close to shore,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairperson.
“Fishing is also good around these carcasses, and by notifying DLNR and NOAA early we can take the necessary steps to tow the carcass back out to sea, which can extend these opportunities and benefit public safety,” added Aila.
“We know that sperm whales are the deepest diving and one of the largest ranging of all cetaceans, but we still don’t know why we see these stranding peaks in the summer,” said Schofield. “It could have something to do with migration patterns, but scientists still have a lot to learn.”
“Although summer is peak season for sperm whale carcasses, other large whale carcasses, like humpbacks, make their way to shore throughout the year,” added Aila.
To report a floating whale or any marine mammal incident, call USCG channel 16 or the NOAA marine mammal hotline at: 1-888-256-9840.