On December 28th, park maintenance worker Brennan Namakaeha spotted a dead pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) at the western end of Black Sand Beach. These animals are rarely seen because most of their time is spent in very deep water.
Park natural resources staff conducted an assessment of the whale the next day and determined that a necropsy could be performed but that the animal would have to be moved to a safer location. NOAA, the governing agency for marine mammals, was contacted and a necropsy team from Hawaii Pacific University was assembled. Before the necropsy was scheduled, NPS cultural resources staff contacted local native Hawaiian cultural community leaders to assist with the Hawaiian cultural protocol for dealing with the animal. A Hawaiian oli (chant) was performed the following day.
Immediately following the cultural ceremony, the university’s necropsy team, the NOAA stranding coordinator, and NPS resource management staff worked together to perform the necropsy. Most of the skeleton and internal organs were collected for later laboratory analysis at HPU. The blubber, muscle, and leftover soft body parts were buried at the site, and several rib bones were returned to the sea as part of the cultural protocol.
Final results from the necropsy will be submitted to NOAA and NPS once the full laboratory work up has been completed.