Officials closed Waimanalo Bay Beach Park and warned people to stay out of the water after sharks were seen eating the carcass of a Hawaiian humpback whale that has since washed ashore and been removed.
At least three large tiger sharks were seen eating the whale remains as it drifted closer to the shore Tuesday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources said. The carcass landed on the beach later in the day, but warning signs remained Wednesday.
The 25- to 35-ton carcass was removed early Wednesday by local, state and federal authorities.
A Hawaiian blessing was held by Kalani Kalima of Waimānalo prior to the whale's burial on private land, according to the City and County of Honolulu.
Before it washed ashore, Honolulu Ocean Safety Division Lt. David Loui took a jet ski out to the carcass as sharks ate chunks of the whale.
“One of the sharks, probably about 12 feet, was actively coming to the jet ski craft and almost making lunges toward it, and basically trying to scare us off,” Loui said.
People came to the beach to see the rare sight.
“We’ve just been hanging out, kind of watching it, looking at what it looks like, looking at the tiger bites on it,” said Sammy Falgiani of Honolulu.
Only about 20 dead whales and dolphins wash ashore on U.S. soil around the Pacific each year, said Nicholas Hofmann, training coordinator of the Health and Stranding LAB at University of Hawaii.
Hofmann’s team helped recover the whale’s baleen, which the whale used to collect shrimp-like krill, plankton and small fish.
“We are here to better understand why this animal died," said Hofmann, "...and then collecting samples for research in the future.”
Experts believe the whale was either an adult or sub-adult and probably died within the past week, the city said.
While the whale carcass has been removed from the shoreline, there is still a chance of increased shark activity in the water, officials said.
There are also reports that dogs are eating some of the tissue and owners are asked to keep their dogs on leashes and away from the material, the DLNR said.