A rotting whale carcass in Hawaii has attracted swarms of hungry sharks now feasting on the leviathan’s flesh, and federal authorities tasked with monitoring it tell Motherboard the messy situation is being impacted by the ongoing government shutdown.
The 30 to 40-foot-long sperm whale was spotted a mile and a half off Oahu’s shoreline, Hawaii News Now first reported Thursday evening. At least 10 tiger sharks are circling the whale, which is missing its tail, according to lifeguards.
Ocean Safety lifeguard Blayne Fujita managed to film the sharks chowing down, and a tourist boat can be seen in the background. Authorities haven’t publicly commented on cause of death.
Early Thursday evening, the carcass was just outside the popular surf spot and boat harbor Kewalo Basin. A later report from local news station KHON2 said it had since drifted west toward Kalihi Channel, near the island’s airport.
Federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) usually oversee such events. Sometimes the animals are towed farther out to sea, not only to keep sharks away from beachgoers, but because it’s cheaper than removing a carcass from the shoreline or reef.
“The situation is impacted by the partial government shutdown,” a NOAA spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.
“NOAA personnel will be limited in number and in the extent of work they are able to do at this time,” the agency added, noting that some are working in excepted capacities to protect life and property.
Like other government agencies, NOAA has suffered critical cuts to its workforce. While NOAA is still issuing weather alerts, many of its employees—marine scientists included—have been furloughed, which has indefinitely halted wildlife and conservation research.
One to four dead sperm whales wash ashore each year, especially between May and August, according to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Scientists don’t fully understand why summer standings are so common.
“It could have something to do with migration patterns,” NOAA’s David Schofield said in a 2013 statement. Experts do know that most of the whales show up on the windward (or easterly) side of Oahu, though yesterday’s sperm whale is currently on the opposite coast.
NOAA and DLNR ask that people report dead or injured whales, and are urging people to stay away from the carcass right now.
“NOAA personnel are working with state of Hawaii and non-governmental partners in this situation,” the agency said.
In 2013, another dead sperm whale was towed ashore due to wind patterns that would have pushed the animal beach-ward anyway. Officials had less success five years earlier when chunks of a different sperm whale carcass fell off a truck en route to Hawaii Pacific University for analysis and littered the road for several hours.