A whale of a job


POSTED: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Randy Cates, who has removed 12 whale carcasses from shorelines in the past 20 years, hasn't smelled anything worse than a rotting whale—except for a decomposing human corpse.

“;It's not a very pleasant smell,”; said Cates, owner of Cates International Inc., whose employees used an excavator and a loader yesterday to put into a truck the gooey mess that once was a whale washing up on the Kahaluu side of Punaluu Beach Park last week. The job of removing a 10- to 15-ton whale took about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Cates said the carcass was taken to Kualoa Ranch, where a hole had been dug to bury it.

He said Kualoa Ranch employees volunteered to provide the space and dig the hole.

Cates said he saw a shark a couple of days ago in waters off the beach.

State and federal officials said they believe the dead animal was a juvenile humpback whale.

Wende Goo, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said federal officials were unable to determine the whale's cause of death.

“;The body was so decomposed it was impossible to tell,”; Goo said.

Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said an examination found some evidence of dorsal scarring, indicating that the animal had been entangled at one time.

Ward said state and county agencies, including aquatic resources officials, responded Friday morning to the report of the whale, which was about 100 yards offshore.

U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crews reported no signs of lines that would have entangled the whale.

Warning notices were issued via news media to the public to avoid entry into the ocean in the vicinity.

The numbers of humpback whales have increased since endangered species and marine mammal protection laws were passed in the early 1970s.

Estimates of humpback whale populations have risen from 1,000 in 1978 to 10,000 during winter migration season to Hawaii from Alaska.

The Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has staff members who rescue whales that become entangled in ocean debris.

Sanctuary officials have developed specialized tools to cut fishing lines.