Death of baby whale to help marine research

Published On: Jan 30 2013 11:06:13 AM HST   Updated On: Jan 16 2013 07:23:46 AM HST

It attracted the attention of dozens of people Monday afternoon -- an infant humpback whale near the East Honolulu surf spot known as "Secrets."

Despite the work of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, the whale died Monday at 9 p.m.

"Heartbreaking to see the animal struggling in the surf, but there was really not much we could do to save the animal," said David Schofield from NOAA.  But, there was really not much we could do to save the animal.  But, hopefully, we'll be able to learn something from the animal that will help us maintain the population in the wild."

Federal and state authorities were on hand Tuesday as the city parks department backhoe picked up the 3,000 pound carcass.

It was taken to Hawaii Pacific University -- home to a successful whale stranding program.

"We'll be looking at every angle that's accessible by this animal to determine how it died and what might have contributed to the fact that it came upon the beach," said Brenda Jensen, HPU's associate dean.

HPU students, along with NOAA scientists and veterinarians, first took measurements of the whale, thought to be only several days old.

"This is really great for us at HPU.  We have so many student volunteers and everything and everyone wants to be hands-on," said HPU graduate student Kerry Foltz.  "The NOAA scientists also here so everyone can learn from the whole experience."

A necropsy, or animal autopsy, will allow scientists to look closer at the calf's tissue, which will be screened.

"This time of year, of course, it's the humpback season right now.  There's any number of things that can go wrong with a baby animal if it got separated from mom.  That is a high risk factor," said Jensen.  "So, it may be as simple as maternal separation or it could be disease or interaction.  But, we'll do our best to try to complete the evidence and understand why."

Once the necropsy is complete, the carcass will be cremated and the remains returned to the community where a cultural ceremony will be held before the ashes are scattered.


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