Eleven melon-headed whales were found stranded on a beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
According to The Associated Press, five of the whales have died, including a calf that was found dead about a mile north from the rest of the group, after being found on Sugar Beach in Kihei on Thursday morning.
Of the five whales that died, four were euthanized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the group’s veterinarians determined the mammals were in grave condition and beyond saving, Jeffrey Walters, NOAA’s wildlife management and conservation branch, said in a statement obtained by AP.
The four whales were first sedated before being humanely euthanized to prevent further suffering.
NOOA helped the remaining six whales float back out into the ocean. Unfortunately, the animals became stranded again before they eventually made it to deeper water.
“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,” David Schofield, the regional marine mammal response coordinator for NOOA, told AP.
Officials are said to be monitoring the beaches on Friday to ensure the whales — one or two of which may be debilitated by the previous stranding — don’t strand themselves again.
The deceased whales will be examined to determine a potential cause for the mass stranding.
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Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, told AP that she and others in Maui protested against NOOA euthanizing the four suffering whales. Pisciotta, who sees the animals as a manifestation of the sea god Kanaloa, wanted to give the whales time to recover so they could swim away and die on their own terms.
Instead, Pisciotta and other practitioners performed a death rite for the euthanized whales.
According to AP, the last mass whale stranding in Hawaii occurred two years ago when five pilot whales were found stranded on a Kauai beach. The cause of this stranding is still unknown.