Melon Headed Whale Stranding Off Sugar Beach, Maui
A marine mammal rescue unit was on scene, conducting a rescue in waters off Sugar Beach in South Maui on Tuesday morning, Nov. 22, 2016.
Witnesses described the mammal as a melon headed whale, and say it was either sick or injured.
Officials with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service tell Maui Now that the animal was 8.5 feet long and was found in shallow waters. Authorities say the whales are typically found offshore in 1400 to 1800 meters of water and travel in large groups of several hundred.
There is a small population off the Big Island of Hawaiʻi that is found closer to shore, but experts say that the fact that this particular animal was found so close to shore is “definitely indicative of the animal being out of its habitat.”
Members of the Pacific Islands Region NOAA Response Team received the call for assistance at around 7:30 a.m. reporting a stranded marine mammal. Officials say crews attempted to assess and stabilize the animal upon arrival, but say it had to be humanely euthanized and passed away about two hours later.
Authorities say they will have to wait for pathology results and results from a necropsy to determine what was wrong with the whale and what may have caused the stranding.
The species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, but it is not listed under the Endangered Speices Act.
According to NOAA, melon-headed whales are small members of the dolphin group and can reach a length of 9 feet, and weigh up to 460 pounds. The agency reports that the whales often occur in groups of over 1,000 animals and are often found on the edge of, or behind, schools of Fraser’s dolphins.
NOAA reports that population estimates are around 2,950 in Hawaiʻi and that the species is primarily found in deep waters where they feed on squid, fish and crustaceans.
**Check back for further details, which will be posted as they become available.