Disease may have killed whale


POSTED: Thursday, March 25, 2010

The male of a rarely seen whale species that beached itself on Maui may have died of disease, a marine mammal expert said yesterday.

Lab tests will confirm whether the death was a “;natural process,”; but the results will not be available for some months, said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Witnesses reported the whale thrashing about violently at Hamoa Beach near Hana on Monday afternoon. Within 10 minutes, they said, the whale stopped moving, according to Schofield.

Experts flew the 1,400-pound, 12-foot long Cuvier's beaked whale corpse to Oahu, where Hawaii Pacific University researchers examined it Tuesday.

Researchers wanted to study the specimen because little is known about beaked whales, which are rarely seen. They hope it will help them save other beaked whales in the future.

Half of the cookie cutter shark wounds on the whale were less than a few weeks old, suggesting the animal spent a lot of time near the ocean surface, probably because it was sick, Schofield said.

An examination found the mammal's stomach empty, signifying it was too weak to feed, Schofield said. Some organs appeared irregular.

The whale, aged between 1 and 3 years old, might have headed toward land to stay afloat or as a primal instinct.

The animal's upper and lower jaws were both shattered, possibly when the waves tossed it about or while it was thrashing around on the beach.