When the whale was spotted by a fisherman on Monday afternoon, it was thrashing around in very shallow waters inside a reef. The animal was weak with numerous cuts and abrasions and perhaps even a shark bite, said David Schofield, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine mammal health and response program manager.
“It was either, kind of wait and let nature take its course and monitor the animal until it perished, or euthanize the animal,” he said Tuesday.
The decision was made to euthanize the baby whale because it was likely just a few days old and would not have been able to survive without its mother. Schofield and a veterinarian waited a few hours until the tide was lower to get to the whale, which was about 50 yards offshore.
The veterinarian gave the whale, estimated to be between 15 and 17 feet and about 3,000 pounds, a sedative and it died about 30 minutes later just before 9 p.m.
“The animal was so far gone,” he said. “That was enough to more or less put it to sleep.”
The whale carcass was to be removed Tuesday from the beach and taken to Hawaii Pacific University where tissue samples will be collected in an effort to determine why the whale died.
Schofield said a definitive cause of death usually can’t be found in such cases. Often, the death is attributed to failure to thrive, he said.
The whale will be cremated and its remains given to Hawaii cultural practitioners. A ceremony will be performed to return the ashes to the sea.
Each winter, a handful of newborn whales are found washed up on Hawaii beaches, Schofield said. This is the time of year when humpback whales from Alaska arrive in the islands to give birth. Sometimes the mothers simply abandon their calves. Other times the newborns may have a congenital problem and can’t keep up with their mothers and will weaken and die after becoming separated, he said.
“It is sad and unfortunate, but it is also nature,” Schofield said.