Reports of a dead humpback whale calf washing up on a westside beach Monday afternoon have prompted more than a few people to ask: what’s up with the waters around Kauai?
As you may recall, a dead calf also washed up on a Niihau beach recently. The Robinson family reported it to state officials on Feb. 2, along with accounts of a major fish kill on the island’s southern beaches. It’s unclear, however, exactly when the whale and fish died. Two state guys flew to Niihau — with the Robinson’s charging $4,000 for the chopper ride — to investigate on Feb. 4, and said it appeared the fish were not freshly dead.
And on Jan. 20, there was a mass lanternfish kill at Kalapaki Beach on the eastside.
So within the span of three weeks, we’ve had two big fish kills and two dead baby whales. What’s strange about it, besides the proximity of otherwise infrequent events, is that the dead fish were deep and mid-water species, whereas reef fish are more commonly involved in big kills. “It’s very mysterious,” said one scientist, noting the state is awaiting toxicology reports on the dead fish.
Some state officials, scientists and conservationists are wondering if the deaths are connected to a recent aerial application of rodenticide on Lehua, a small island near Niihau. According to a press release from USDA-APHIS:
On January 6 and 13, 2009, biologists from the National Wildlife Research Center and the Wildlife Services' Hawaii state office, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii, aerially broadcast diphacinone rodenticide bait pellets on Lehua Island.
The island is a 312-acre crescent-shaped volcanic cone that supports colonies of seabirds such as Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, red-footed and brown boobies, black noddies and shearwaters. Some of these species are threatened by invasive Polynesian rats. Two diphacinone bait drops were used during the rodent eradication operation to ensure there was enough bait to reach every rat during a lethal exposure period.
A similar rat eradication effort was carried out last February on Mokapu Island, off the north coast of Molokai, with the EA anticipating no non-target poisoning problems:
The [environmental] assessment noted studies concluding that fish were unlikely to ingest bait pellets and that there would be no impact to marine animals from direct or indirect ingestion of diphacinone. In addition, the report said the pellets were not expected to persist for more than two to three days in winter seas.
"Exposure levels of marine invertebrates to toxins in the bait would be at such low levels and for such a short time that no tissue accumulation is anticipated and no effects to humans," the assessment said.
Follow up studies apparently bear that out:
No detectable concentrations of diphacinone were found in the fish, limpets, or sea-water samples from Mokapu Island or from the reference sites.
Similar tests were to be done after the Lehua rodenticide application, and I’m waiting to hear about the results.
Of course, PMRF – the largest underwater range in the world — is also over in that neck of the woods, and no one but the navy knows what was happening there these past few weeks. The latest whale washed in at Kokole Point, on the border between the base and Kekaha. In The Garden Island account of the beaching, PRMF spokesman Tom Clements says only that “the base is reacting to the reports and will remain on standby as NOAA checks into it.”
“Are they using sonar out there?” wondered one scientist. “This is the same navy that ran their cruiser aground on a sandbar on Oahu. I don’t have a lot of confidence in them. What 21-year-old navy kid pushed the wrong button and blasted the hell out of the marine environment? Oops.”
Btw, in attempting to free the billion-dollar warship, the navy dumped 5,000 gallons of sewage to lighten its load, without bothering to tell the Department of Health or anyone else. “That’s just another example of the navy doing whatever the fuck it wants,” said a biologist.
Speaking of the navy doing whatever the fuck it wants, Maui's Dick Mayer sent out an email with the message:
Here is confirmation for what we have been saying all along. The Superferry was a prototype for the Navy's new JHSV vessel, both as in the design of the ship, and as a mechanism to train the many workers who will be needed to build the Navy's ships.
It was accompanied by this link reporting on Austal getting the Joint High Speed Vessel contract, potentially worth $1.6 billion:
“As demonstrated by the two Hawaii Superferry vessels recently constructed at our Mobile, Alabama facilities, our US shipyard has the capability to deliver large high speed advanced aluminium platforms on time and on budget - a capability which will be further enhanced upon completion of the MMF and the expansion of our US workforce,” Mr Browning said.
I hate to say I told you so, but....