Five whales dead after mass stranding on Maui beach

HONOLULU (AP) – Five whales died, including four that were euthanized, after a mass stranding on Thursday on a beach on the Hawaii island of Maui.

Ten melon-headed whales were found stranded alive early in the morning on Sugar Beach in the coastal resort community of Kihei.

Hours later, a whale calf believed to belong to the same social group was found dead on the beach about a mile to the north, said David Schofield, the regional marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA veterinarians determined four of the whales were in grave condition and nothing more could be done to save them, Jeffrey Walters, NOAA’s wildlife management and conservation branch, said in a statement.

The animals were made comfortable with a sedative and then humanely euthanised to relieve their suffering, he said.

Officials with the United States (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration help melon-headed whales stranded on a beach in Kihei, Hawaii. PHOTO: AP

The remaining six whales were refloated to the ocean but stranded again, Schofield said. NOAA initially said the prognosis for two of the six wasn’t good, but they eventually made it out. Officials monitored the area yesterday just in case they return. One or two of the six is likely debilitated, he said.

“The last time we saw them they seemed to be moving in a healthy manner to deeper waters. So it’s our hope that they got their bearings about them and were able to head out to sea,” Schofield said.

Walters said NOAA and University of Hawaii scientists will examine the whales to determine what caused the stranding. Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, objected to the euthanising of the whales, animals she said are a manifestation of the sea god Kanaloa.

She and others wanted to hold up the whales in the water so they could recover and swim away or die dignified deaths. But she said NOAA officials wouldn’t let them near the whales.

“All we’re seeking to do is have a relationship with our Kanaloa,” she said.

Walters said NOAA worked closely with Hawaiian cultural practitioners, who prayed before and after the whales were euthanised.