By Wendy Osher
A rare whale that beached itself on Maui’s east shores of Hana in 2010 is the subject of the most in-depth research conducted to date on the species, according to scientists at Hawai’i Pacific University.
The Longman’s beaked whale died after stranding itself on March 22 at Hamoa Beach. It was then transported to Oahu where a necropsy was done and follow-up analyses were conducted.
According to the study, to be published in the Marine Mammal Science journal, scientists determined that the whale carried a morbillivirus–representing the first report of its kind in a marine mammal from the central Pacific.
The finding, the report states, generates many questions about the history and prevalence of this disease in Hawai’i and the potential impact on Hawaiian marine mammal populations.
“Hawaii’s cetaceans may be particularly vulnerable to a morbillivirus outbreak as many of Hawaii’s stocks are comprised of small, island-associated, resident populations where any reduction in population size may be devastating because of an already low number of breeding individuals,” the study notes.
Additionally, the report states, “Future planned work includes a genetic characterization of the identified Hawaiian morbillivirus, an investigation into the prevalence of this disease among Hawai’i cetaceans and an assessment of the potential impact of this disease on Hawaiian marine mammal populations.”
HPU Associate Professor of Biology, Kristi West, PhD, who led the research team noted the rarity of the whale in a statement released by the university today saying, “As of 1999, the species was only known from two skulls, one in a museum in Australia and another in Somalia. There were absolutely no photographs to accompany the skulls so that left us with no idea of what Longman’s beaked whales look like.”
Scientists determined that the species found in Hawai’i was a juvenile male.
According to the study, the complete skeleton from the whale is now vouchered at the Natural History Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
***Supporting information courtesy HPU, NOAA & the Marine Mammal Science journal.