National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists euthanized two pygmy killer whales Tuesday after the mammals stranded themselves on Sugar Beach in Kihei, Maui. It's near where other whales beached themselves last month.
For the past week-and-a-half, NOAA had been monitoring a group of six pygmy killer whales milling in the area. The euthanized whales were part of that pack.
David Schofield, NOAA’s regional marine mammal stranding response coordinator, said when he and veterinarians on the scene assessed the health of the pygmy killer whales, they were showing signs of severe body deterioration.
Among the signs the whales were not fit to survive in the wild were blood samples that revealed low alkaline phosphatase levels, which indicates infection and bad nutrition.
“When these whales strand, they strand for a reason. They usually strand because they are very, very sick,” said Schofield. “The alkaline phosphatase levels in these whales showed basically it would have been inhumane to put these animals back out into the wild.”
This is the second time in the past few weeks that scientists were forced to euthanize pygmy killer whales due to a mass stranding.
On Aug. 29, 10 pygmy killer whales stranded themselves, also on Sugar Beach. In that case, NOAA was able to float six of the whales back to sea. However, four had to be euthanized.
The latest group of whales is not the same six from the August stranding.
Schofield expressed concerns about the two recent strandings.
The last incident of a mass stranding in Hawaii involved a group of pilot whales in Kauai in 2017. Schofield said prior to that, there hadn’t been a mass stranding in the islands since the 1950s or 1960s.
Schofield explained that a mass stranding is two or more animals that are not a mother and calf.
“It’s a little alarming that we would see two to three mass strandings in a two to three-year period,” Schofield said.
In the August stranding, NOAA experts suspect that, because whales are social creatures, the six healthy whales followed the four sick whales to shore.
Schofield hopes that was the case in this stranding as well. The four whales with the two euthanized whales are still milling in the area. However, he hopes they will head for deeper water soon.
NOAA is closely monitoring the remaining four whales.
The bodies of the two euthanized whales are being transported to Oahu for post-mortem examinations.