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Cultural expert says whale was mishandled

By Gary T. Kubota

LAST UPDATED: 2:12 a.m. HST, Sep 30, 2010

A Hawaiian cultural practitioner is objecting to the way federal officials handled the carcass of a Blainville's beaked whale that died last month at a rehabilitation center in Hilo.

David Schofield, the federal marine mammal response coordinator in Hawaii, said some parts of the whale were taken for science and some were cremated and returned to the cultural practitioners. He would not detail where parts were sent.

On Friday, a Hui Malama O Kanaloa spokesman Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. said the whale's remains should not have been kept on land.

"Hawaiians feel that children of the god Kanaloa should ... be returned to the ocean," Maxwell said.

The stranded Blainville's beaked whale was flown on Aug. 16 while still alive from Kihei Beach on Maui to the University of Hawaii-Hilo Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility. It died on Aug. 29.

Several cultural practitioners and their supporters conducted a burial ceremony with partial remains of the cremated whale Friday morning in waters at Maalaea Harbor on Maui.

Maxwell said that for more than 20 years, Hawaiian practitioners have tried to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a Hawaiian protocol for the stranding of whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles.

He said requests have fallen on "deaf ears."

Schofield said his agency is responsible for managing health risks to marine mammals and the public. Parts of the whale were taken for a necropsy, he said.

"We're doing everything allowable under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to accommodate cultural viewpoints," Schofield said.

Schofield said a Hawaiian cultural practitioner was with the whale after it was stranded and during its treatment.

Federal officials said the whale had intestinal problems, moderate pneumonia and kidney disease.

A Coast Guard aircraft took the whale, weighing nearly a ton, from the Maui beach to Hilo and placed in a 25,000-gallon pool at the facility, where scientists tried to save the animal, rather than euthanize it on the beach.

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