Five whales die after mass stranding on Maui beach
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Five whales died after a mass stranding Thursday at a beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The Associated Press reported that 10 melon-headed whales were found stranded on Sugar Beach in Kihei, a coastal resort community, early Thursday. Just hours later, a whale calf believed to be from the same group was found dead on the beach a mile north of Kihei, according to David Schofield, the regional marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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Veterinarians from the NOAA found that four of the 10 whales were in grave condition, the AP reported. The four were then given a sedative and euthanized to relieve their suffering, the NOAA said.

The six remaining whales were refloated to the ocean, got stranded, but eventually made it out, according to NOAA.

“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,” Schofield said, according to the AP.

Authorities have not given an official reason for the stranding. University of Hawaii scientists said they will monitor the area and examine the dead whales, according to the AP.

The decision to euthanize the four whales drew objections from some Hawaiians.

Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, told the AP that the animals are a manifestation of the sea god Kanaloa. She and others reportedly wanted to hold up the whales in the water so that they could either swim away or die naturally, but officials would not let them touch the mammals.

“All we’re seeking to do is have a relationship with our Kanaloa,” she said.

Jeffrey Walters, an official with NOAA’s wildlife management and conservation branch, said NOAA veterinarians determined that there was nothing more that could be done to help the whales. He added that the agency worked closely with Hawaiian cultural practitioners, who prayed before and after the whales were euthanized.

“We will continue to work with practitioners and other community members to the maximum extent possible, while we fulfill our mandate to conduct stranding response and post-mortem exams under the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” Walters said, according to the AP.

Pisciotta, however, said that although nine practitioners were at the beach alongside NOAA officials, they never agreed to the animals being euthanized, and they only prayed because the whales were being killed.

“We’re not saying you cannot do a necropsy, we’re just saying just give them a chance to die normally,” she said.