The Stranding of the Short Finned Pilot Whales

“Excuse me! I need to get through!” The woman said, hopping out of her Jeep and pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

“What you need is to turn your car around, this is a police barrier.” Said the man in charge.

“I’m a veterinarian I can help!”

“I don’t know how you can help Ma’am it’s dead.”

“I know how I can help! I can figure out how it died!” she said, ducking under the barrier, striding towards him.

It was, to be honest , a “Be still my beating heart !” moment taken from the worst of romance novel clichés. The auburn haired, out of town kooky but passionate veterinarian. The rugged standoffish local official… all they want to do is save the whales …but together… they’ll find love.

This was not the case though.  Handsome and rugged may not have been an official since he was in a t-shirt and not a police vest, and didn’t have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A) badge. However he was in the middle of the action telling people what to do.

He sighed heavily and took a deep breath, “That’s what we’re doing here Ma’am, now get back in your vehicle and turn around.”

She got back in her Jeep, and stared angrily at the people strapping the whale to the flatbed. I wanted to knock on the window and tell her not to worry. I’d just heard that the best scientists in the world were about to do a necropsy on it! But then the truck hauling the flatbed started up, and in the excitement of watching the whale get hauled out, videoing it and making sure the kids didn’t get run over by one of the vehicles passing by us to escort it out, she drove off.


(Whale being taken away in the flatbed while this man with his feather staff looks on.)

Before the veterinarian’s arrival,  a lovely lady wearing an official vest, and N.O.A.A badge that read Jean S. had come by and asked if anyone wanted to know what was going on. I said, “Yes!” I was filming the whale while she talked to everyone. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

“It’s a short finned pilot whale. They live in groups, pods, and some of them might be quite large, in the hundreds. And so they- they have a leader and sometimes they might what we call mass strand, where if one goes they all go. So that’s what happened earlier, there were more of them on the beach. I don’t know what happened I wasn’t here,  I know they were trying to escort them out. But these are the two dead ones for now, we don’t know if there will be others later, or down on the shoreline somewhere else. We don’t know how that’s gonna go.”

“What are they doing with the dead ones now?”

“They put it on the flatbed, take it to someplace and bring in a team to do what is called a, an animal autopsy, which is called a necrospsy. They’re going to do a necrospsy to find out what happened.”

“Do they do that on Kaua’i then or they take it…”

“Yeah as far as I know. They’ll do a full body thing to get tissue samples, send it to the lab. Take a look, was there bruising, is there evidence of collision. They’ll look at the ears, they’ll look at the eyes. Was it something related to sonar, what can we tell about the animal. But these animals that’s the dangerous part- when we heard possible short finned pilot whale, that there could be more- always.”

“How big are their pods usually?”



“I think it was on Lana’i, decades ago hundreds died. Hundreds.”

“So this could be happening for a couple days then? I mean, or it’s hard to say?”

“It’s hard to say, but you know we need to be vigilant, be watching and seeing. And we don’t know if there might be other animals that might have been effected by it. These are deep water animals, were they-did something happen out there or what? They are air breathers like us, but normally they can regulate their buoyancy, but when they get sick or injured they lose their buoyancy. So if you were to sink, what are you going to do? You’re going to fight to get air,  right? So in order to stay up they tend to come to shore so they can keep their air holes open. But then when they come on the beach they, you know they’re used to being really floating and now all of their weight is on their internal organs and stuff , so if something doesn’t happen soon they tend to die. So-”


———-End of Video——- My phone ran out of memory. Because I have over 4000 pictures I need to upload.

Walking back to the car after the whale was hauled away, I mulled over the sad mystery of it. Gids ran down the beach to read the signs warning about sharks. And Rossi shrieked “Dragonfly! Big Dragonfly!” Every time the helicopter sweeping the bay flew over us. I thought about family and love, and loyalty. As Alexander Dumas wrote in the Three Musketeers, “All for one and one for all.” He had it as the motto of a merry band of middle aged guys, but it seems to be a motto the whales embody as well. IMG_20171014_112313_319


If you are interested in learning more about what they look for in a necropsy, here is a link to the N.O.A.A  findings on a mass stranding in South Carolina in January of 2005. It involved thirty three short-finned pilot whales, one minke whale, and two dwarf sperm whales.

I tried to find out more about the whales beached on Lana’i. I couldn’t find anything, aside from this scientific article.

I assume I didn’t find more because it happened before things were put on the internet. If any of my readers know anything about this, please let me know! I’d be interested to hear about it.

If you’re on IG check out #Kalapaki for videos of the whales. This link is to a video posted by user rickyikeda of surfers trying to save them,

I also want to send a special thank you to my cousin’s boyfriend for showing us this video about a beached whale in the 1970’s.

Nobody knew what to do with it, and someone said lets blow it up! It will be vaporized- the birds will eat the tiny leftover pieces! So they blow it up- huge chunks of flesh go flying, people run for their lives, cars get smashed! I didn’t realize how big an impression this made on the kids until we were watching the whale along with everyone else and they began to chant, “Blow it up! Blow it up! Blow it up!” I stopped them, but not before they were overheard by a Hawaiian lady. A Hawaiian lady who had just explained to a tourist that the whale was her Aumakua. (Family god /ancestor.) I will never forget today, or the look on her face.

Thank you so for checking out my blog, I really appreciate that you took the time!!!


2 thoughts on “The Stranding of the Short Finned Pilot Whales

  1. Hi Em! Great story telling. This one is very interesting on multiple levels. It is also journalism. Interviews, quotes, sources, witnesses, links, photos. Well done! I was glad to see your post. Keep up the good work!


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