Decomposing whale head washed up on Kapaʻa beach to remain indefinitely

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The head of a decaying sperm whale washed up on the shoreline of the Sheraton Kauaʻi Coconut Beach Resort in Kapaʻa on Friday, June 14, and according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, environmental professionals have assessed the area and decided to leave it there permanently.

  • A head of a decomposing sperm whale on June 14, 2024, on the beach outside the Sheraton Kauaʻi Coconut Beach Resort in Kapaʻa. (Emma Grunwald / Kauaʻi Now)
  • The decomposing sperm whale’s head will not be moved, according to the DLNR, after washing ashore on the beach outside of the Sheraton Kaua’i Coconut Beach Resort on June 14, 2024. (Emma Grunwald / Kauaʻi Now)
  • Yellow tape is seen around the area of the decomposing whale head by the Sheraton Kauaʻi Coconut Beach Resort on Friday afternoon, June 14. A “shark warning” sign had also been placed to alert people not to go in the water. (Emma Grunwald / Kauaʻi Now)

Yellow tape had been placed around the beach near the whale on Friday afternoon, and a foul-smelling odor seemed to be coming from the rotting carcass.

After seeing a shark warning sign around the area from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and hearing from resort employees that DLNR staff had been at the site, Kauaʻi Now reached out to the department for information.

DLNR Communications Director Dan Dennison said in an email response that Marine Mammal Response Field Coordinators Mimi Olry and Jamie Thomton had responded to the incident earlier in the day.

They contacted the practitioner community, and a man named “Uncle Billy” came to inspect the scene.

“Uncle Billy responded and conducted protocol,” said Dennison.


Dennison said that Olry and Thomton asked “Uncle Billy” what to do — tow, bury, or leave it.

“Uncle Billy decided the best thing would be to leave it in place,” said Dennison.

Kauaʻi Now followed up with Dennison, asking for clarity on who “Uncle Billy” is but he did not know, as he had received the report from the field coordinators.

Dennison noted that Olry and Thomton also spoke with the resort manager and County of Kauaʻi Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, “who all concurred” to leave the whale head where it is.

“They cordoned off the area. People very rarely swim in the rocky area where the whale head has landed, but just to be safe, they put up shark signs,” Dennison said.


Kauaʻi Now has reached out to Olry for comment on the situation and the reasoning behind the decision to leave the whale in place.

Kauaʻi Now has also contacted Olry for clarity on who Uncle Billy is.

YouTube channel OutsideWatch profiled a man named Billy Ka’ohelauli’i, a.k.a. “Uncle Billy” in 2017, in a video which calls him “Kauaʻi’s guardian,” a man working to save cultural sites and spaces.

June 17 update: The DLNR provided a response on behalf of Olry, clarifying that “Uncle Billy” was Billy Kinney from Kia’i Kanaloa, a multi-island network of Hawaiian cultural and religious practitioners who respond to reports of distressed and deceased marine mammals.

“DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources staff are making efforts to work more cohesively with Hawaiian cultural practitioners and the community on situations like this,” said DLNR Communications Specialist Ryan Aguilar in an email.


“The practitioners, including Billy Kinney from Kia’i Kanaloa, wanted to leave the whale head alone. With their input, and as there is no danger to the public, that is the decision that they settled upon.”

Kia’i Kanaloa had previously criticized the government’s handling of a dead sperm whale that washed up in Wailua in January 2023, when a 60-ton, 56-foot-long whale was dismembered, removed and buried in a secret location.

“What transpired on scene was sloppy and continued cycles of trauma, violence and disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples who are guaranteed free, prior and informed consent,” the group had said in a statement at the time.

Members of Kia‘i Kanakoa later met with Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami on Jan. 31, 2023, days after the whale’s burial, to discuss the cultural significance of whales in Hawaiʻi.

Emma Grunwald
Emma Grunwald is a reporter for Kauaʻi Now. You can reach her at
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