HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - So far this year Hawaii Pacific University's Marine Mammal Stranding Program has responded to 16 strandings of whales and dolphins in Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa.
"You never know when animals are going to come in. We also don't know where they're going to come in," program director Kristi West said.
When the animals beach themselves and die, West and student volunteers remove the carcasses and determine cause of death.
"Our work establishes what things out there in the environment are threatening them," she said.
About 20 times a year the stranding program's team performs necropsies. Students get hands on experience that can't be duplicated in a classroom.
"It's an incredible opportunity for them to be introduced to these important issues that affect the health of the animals and the public," HPU interim dean David Horgen said.
But budget tightening at the federal level cut $100,000 of grant money from the program -- two thirds of its operating budget.
"We're going to lose a lot of information about Hawaii's dolphins and whales. This is really the primary means we have to really learn about these poorly known species," West said.
To help counter the shortfall, the university's contributing some money, so has NOAA.
"We were able to funnel some of our regional program money to them to help them maintain their basic level of response. NOAA in partnership with HPU is still going to be able to respond at some level," said David Schofield, NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Response manager.
But freezers where tissue samples are kept have broken down, and there's no cash to fix them.
"Those are some practical examples of places where we're really feeling the fact that we don't have this funding at this time," West said.
She also worries that stranding responses may have to be scaled back. A carcass left on a beach is a health hazard to humans.
"It's imperative that trained personnel are the ones out there trying to remove these animals and learn from them," she said.
West is writing to charitable organizations and foundations asking for contributions. HPU's stranding program is the only one in this region of the world. If you can help with financial assistance contact West at firstname.lastname@example.org.