Whale that beached itself Sunday dies

The Maui News
Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Staff Writer

MAALAEA - The pygmy sperm whale that beached itself twice on Maalaea's coastline on Sunday died Sunday night, officials said.

Following the whale's death, a necropsy was performed at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei, said Margaret Akamine, protected species program coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries.

Akamine said results from the necropsy usually take two to three months.

The male pygmy sperm whale was the second marine mammal to beach itself and die within three days.

On Friday, a male striped dolphin beached itself on Wailea Beach, but had to be euthanized a day later because its health was rapidly deteriorating, officials said.

The whale died on its own at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Ocean Center, after it swam ashore a second time in Maalaea hours earlier.

Veterinarians were also called in to examine the whale and perform the necropsy, said John Gorman, the Maui Ocean Center's head curator.

Akamine said the two beachings in a three-day span was "coincidental."

She stressed that "these are natural occurrences."

"We have marine mammal strandings every year, and we hope for the best and we give them the best available treatment," she said.

Akamine pointed out most beached mammals don't survive despite efforts to save them by humans.

She said officials tried to return the dolphin and the whale to the ocean.

"For both species that was the best chance at survival," she said.

Neither animal had much chance of surviving in captivity, Akamine said.

Maui Ocean Center spokeswoman Liz Warrick said a blessing was done on a boat when the whale was returned to the ocean on Monday.

Warrick said Dane Maxwell, the grandson of cultural adviser Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., performed the blessing. Dane Maxwell is also a naturalist at the center, she said. The elder Maxwell prayed for the whale and its humane treatment on Sunday night.

Akamine said tissue samples were taken from the whale during the necropsy that began Sunday night and ended early Monday morning.

The 450-pound pygmy sperm whale was first spotted beaching itself in front of the Maalaea Banyans condominium around 9 a.m. Sunday morning. Witnesses said the animal was swimming in circles and thrashing. It was taken more than three miles off of McGregor Point, where it was released around noon. The whale disappeared underwater but returned to the same area of Maalaea hours later.

Gorman said that, on the second beaching, the whale was "rolling in the surf." He said he could tell by looking at the animal it was going to die or need to be euthanized.

To report a marine mammal stranding, call the NOAA stranding hot line at (888) 256-9840.

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Ho`iho`i Mai