He Lei No Ke Koholā Li‘ili‘i — A Lei for the Little Whale

December 21, 2016

Melon headed whale illustration

NOAA Fisheries works with various partners — including Hawai‘i Pacific University, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, United States Coast Guard, City & County of Honolulu's Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services, volunteers, and others — to promote marine species conservation and monitor nearshore situations involving protected resources, such as whale strandings. We also often work closely with cultural practitioners to make sure the upmost care and respect is taken when handling these beloved animals.

This video tells the story of a lone melon-headed whale juvenile that stranded in the shallow waters off Kamuela Beach in Kailua, O‘ahu in September 2016. The health of the young whale slowly deteriorated as the days wore on and it eventually euthanized. A cultural practitioner later performed a Hawaiian cultural blessing and ash-scattering ceremony to commemorate the whale, which touched the hearts of the community and responders alike.

Post-Mortem Update

Following the death of the whale, experts performed a necropsy (post-mortem examination) on the young animal. The necropsy revealed that the whale suffered from a chronic (long-term) inflammation in its lungs and sinuses that was caused by parasitic worms (likely transmitted through digested prey). With its stomach full of squid beaks, the juvenile appears to have successfully foraged for prey in deep pelagic (open sea) waters prior to stranding in the shallow waters. It did not appear to have any signs of a viral or bacterial infection or organ dysfunction.

With cases like this, NOAA Fisheries is often left with more questions than answers. It's unclear if the juvenile's respiratory problem is related to its stranding, but it's possible that the inflammation affected the animal's navigation, as well as its ability to keep up with its pod and forage. That being said, it's still an open question as to why this young animal ended up in Kailua Bay.


    Story by Joseph Bennington-Castro, PIRO Science Writer.


    Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on August 08, 2018