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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

By Rod Thompson, Star-Bulletin
Mike Kaneshiro of Waimea holds his shirt over his
nose to avoid the smell of a humpback whale carcass
near Wailea Bay on the west Hawaii coast.

Big Isle has a
whale of a task

Officials are pondering how
to dispose of 30 tons of badly
decomposing whale on
the Big Island shore

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


WAILEA BAY, Hawaii -- Thirty tons of dead whale continue sloshing in shallow water on the West Hawaii coast today while officials ponder how to get rid of the mess.

Except for two flippers sticking out of its sides, the body of the 25-foot humpback whale looks more like a half-deflated blimp than a noble marine mammal.

"The badly decomposing carcass appears to have been dead for some time prior to washing ashore," the Department of Land and Natural Resources said yesterday.

At the shore, University of Hawaii student Mike Kaneshiro from Waimea said friends told him the whale was first seen at Spencer Beach Park.

Sunday, when the body washed onto the rocks three miles south of Spencer, between Hapuna Beach State Park and Wailea Bay, nobody was sure what to do.

Bruce Butts, a Hawaii County Civil Defense staffer, said state officials asked the county to send a helicopter to check it out.

The chopper spotted a large tiger shark in the area, and Hapuna Beach was ordered closed.

State conservation officers then contacted the National Marine Fisheries Service, since humpbacks are a protected species. They OK'd getting rid of the carcass. But how?

Back to the county, which according to state law, has responsibility for things that wash ashore.

Butts wasn't pleased. "It's a big task," he said.

The idea of towing the smelly thing out to sea didn't seem feasible, so a land approach was considered.

The county Department of Public Works was called in to plan a temporary road across jagged shoreline rocks.

"Every day there's a new challenge," quipped Public Works deputy engineer Jiro Sumada.

But a temporary road can't be built until the state issues permits. If all goes well those will be ready in a day or two, Sumada said.

Then a large excavator will try to lift the carcass out of the water, he said.

Thirty tons of it? "I don't want to go into too much detail because I think it will become gory," he said.

Then what? The county isn't too happy about putting 30 tons of dead whale in a county landfill.

Maybe the state would allow it to be buried inland from where it was found, Sumada said. No word back from the state on that yet.

More sharks were spotted yesterday, at least one feeding on the carcass. Officials wouldn't mind if sharks ate the carcass but most of the water around the whale appears to be too shallow for sharks.

Meanwhile, officials began asking residents to stay away so their cars' catalytic converters wouldn't set dry grass in the area on fire. Maybe the word didn't get out. Numerous sightseers started arriving after work.

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