National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said today that four of the 10 small melon-headed whales that stranded on a Maui beach this morning have been euthanized, and a whale calf was found dead nearby.
The agency said NOAA veterinarians determined that the four whales were in grave condition and nothing more could be done to save them. The vets sedated them, and then humanely euthanized to relieve their suffering, officials said.
The other six whales were refloated to the ocean. NOAA Regional Marine Mammal Response Coordinator David Schofield said the six came back ashore but eventually made it out to deeper water.
Schofield said the calf was found about a mile north of the other melon-headed whales. He said the calf is believed to be part of the same social grouping as the whales found alive.
“No obvious cause for the stranding is evident at this time,” said NOAA in a statement. “We are working with the University of Hawaii Stranding Lab to conduct post-mortem exams on the dead whales to try to determine what caused the stranding and gain as much information as possible about these whales. The post-mortem exams will also assist in better understanding their natural history and inform our whale conservation efforts.”
Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Kealoha Pisciotta said the whales are a manifestation of the sea god Kanaloa. She and others wanted to float the whales so they can swim away or die dignified deaths. She said NOAA officials won’t let them near the whales.
“We have been working closely with Hawaiian cultural practitioners during this stranding response,” said NOAA in a statement. “Practitioners conducted protocol, including pule (prayer), before and after the whales were euthanized. We will continue to work with practitioners and other community members to the maximum extent possible, while we fulfill our mandate to conduct stranding response and post-mortem exams under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”
NOAA officials said their efforts were aided by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, Maui County, and the Maui Police Department.