Scientists scramble to find cause of stranding that left 4 whales dead on Maui

Updated: Aug. 29, 2019 at 5:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Marine mammal response teams raced to save 10 melon-headed whales that got stranded near Maui’s Sugar Beach on Thursday morning, but were forced to euthanize four that weren’t expected to survive and believed two others might also not make it.

NOAA spokeswoman Jolene Lau said four of the stranded whales were found in grave condition.

“Nothing more could be done to save them, so the animals were made comfortable with a sedative and then humanely euthanized to relieve their suffering," she said.

(Image: NOAA Fisheries permit number 18786)
(Image: NOAA Fisheries permit number 18786)

The six remaining whales were pushed back into the ocean, but two of them soon re-stranded.

Lau said NOAA veterinarians are trying to determine what can be done to save the whale.

“The prognosis was not good, and they will likely also be sedated and euthanized,” she said.

Witness Jason Keck said he saw volunteers and others trying to push the whales back out into the water. “They said that the matriarch was basically the sick one and basically the pods were trying to protect her,” he said. “It was a pretty sad situation, but it was good to see there were a bunch of volunteers able to help quick.”

He said he estimated the whales are about 400 pounds “and when they flip their tales, couple of the guys went flying pretty good.”

Melon-headed whales are a protected species, and can grow up to about 9 feet long. Some 400 individuals are believed to live in Hawaii waters, according to NOAA.

Lau said there’s no obvious cause for the stranding at this time.

NOAA is working with the University of Hawaii Stranding Lab to conduct post-mortem exams.

She added that the response team is working with Hawaiian cultural practitioners on site.

“Practitioners conducted protocol, including pule, before and after the whales were euthanized,” Lau said. "We will continue to work with practitioners ... while we fulfill our mandate to conduct stranding response and post-mortem exams under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Experts said whale strandings are rare but not unheard of in Hawaii.

One of the largest in recent years happened in 2017, when five pilot whales died after a stranding on Kauai.

This story will be updated.

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