Irregularities in the internal organs and a piece of plastic marine debris were among the preliminary findings that resulted in the necropsy conducted on the whale that has stranded itself on Micro Beach last week.
Assistant biology professor Kristi West of Hawaii Pacific University and regional marine mammal health and response manager T. David Schofield of the National Marine Fisheries Service under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration presented these findings to the public at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center Theater on Friday.
West and Schofield led the team that conducted the necropsy on Thursday to KW2011-016, believed to be a Cuvier's beaked whale that was discovered and put down to sleep on Aug. 23.
The necropsy, which lasted for about 13 hours, was held at the U.S. Islands Seafood facility along Beach Road in Garapan and initially involved a visual examination of the whale's various tissues.
Schofield said that there was abnormal coloration on the whale's intestines. “This is not the normal color of what we would see in intestines,” he said. “We want to see nice, pink, fleshy looking intestines and not green, blue, and purple.”
He noted, however, that it is uncertain whether the coloration was caused by the refrigeration of the whale's body for 24 hours or a sign of a bio toxin or a man-made toxin.
Schofield also discussed about the whale's kidneys which were “very, very sick” since these were heavily parasitized.
“We saw, in my opinion, the worst example of kidneys I have personally seen in stranded animals,” said Schofield, describing the nodules found in the kidneys as the size of a golf ball.
Schofield, in an interview after the presentation, said all dolphins and whales carry some level of parasites in them.
“It's just that we don't expect a healthy whale to have this level of parasitism which means the whale might have been sick from something else to have this level of parasitism in its kidneys,” he explained.
A circular piece of plastic material that measures about one inch in diameter was also found in the whale's stomach.
“It's a piece of marine debris that man has put into the ocean because we're sometimes irresponsible with what we do with our trash,” said Schofield, noting that the plastic material was in the whale's system but was not an obstruction to its intestines.
Schofield added that depending on whether or not the plastic material, which he said was already starting to break down, was petroleum-based or not, they will sample it for evidence of toxicity.
“It remains to be seen whether we would categorize this stranding or morbidity as natural or whether it was a human-related cause of stranding,” he said.
According to Schofield, it will take six months to one year before they could get the results from the four coolers filled with biological samples they obtained from KW2011-016 which weighed close to 2,500 lbs.
During the presentation, West also discussed necropsy and pathology results from previous whale strandings they dealt with in Hawaii as part of the Hawaii Pacific University Stranding Response Program.
The other whale and the turtle
Schofield disclosed that they also took samples from the cranium and brain tissue of KW2011-015, the name given to the other stranded whale found dead on the back reef area outside Oleai Beach Bar & Grill.
But Schofield said that they are not sure how much information they can get from KW2011-015 since the samples were taken from a decomposed whale.
“The more decomposed the whale, the less scientific information we can gather,” he explained.
A sea turtle, which was also found together with KW2011-016, also passed away after it was found. Dr. Ed Tudor, who was in the audience that night, disclosed that a small lesion was found on the turtle's carapace but a turtle expert from Hawaii he talked to on the phone didn't think the lesion caused any problem to the turtle.
“He passed despite all of our efforts,” said Tudor regarding the turtle which was administered with two liters of saline on its abdomen.