HomeNative HawaiianNative Hawaiians criticize handling of beached whale

Native Hawaiians criticize handling of beached whale

A Native Hawaiian group is criticizing the way the federal government handled the removal of a beached sperm whale in Wailuā on the East Side of Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i News Now reports. They say agencies ignored Hawaiian cultural practices.

According to CBS News, the whale’s carcass was discovered on Jan. 27 in Lydgate Park. The beach was closed so agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service, could remove the whale’s remains.

Eight Hawaiian cultural practitioners were present while agencies removed, dismembered and ultimately buried the whales, Kaua‘i News Now reports. Kia‘i Kanaloa, a multi-island Native Hawaiian network that responds to reports of distressed and deceased marine mammals, criticized agencies for treating the whale, or kanaloa, as a “specimen.”

“The greed for science superseded common sense, ethics, ordinances and common courtesy for the Kauaʻi community,” said the group, according to Kaua’i News Now. “While some agencies saw this kanaloa as a ‘specimen,’ we understand that this kanaloa is our ancestor and as such, requires us to engage in a specific manner.”

The group and other Native Hawaiians also felt that the agencies should have attempted a sea burial.

“One [whale] of this size is a big, big undertaking, but we have been successful in burial at sea,” Roxane Keliʻikipikāneokolohaka, a Hilo-based founder of Kiaʻi Kanaloa told Kaua’i News Now. “Even modern contemporary Western science will talk about how whale falls are critical to the ecosystem.”

NOAA fisheries said it consulted with Hawaiian cultural practitioners and local agencies before deciding how to remove the whale.

“Ultimately, federal and county officials prioritized human health and safety, including zoonotic (animal to human) disease and shark risk in considering a final resting place for the whale,” the Regional Office said, according to Kaua’i News Now. “We recognize that cetacean strandings are emotional and challenging events for all involved. Our hope is that we can continue to work together with Native Hawaiian practitioners and other community members in an open and productive manner as we move forward.”

Fish netting, traps, plastic and marine debris were found inside the whale. Dr. Kristi West, director of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Health and Stranding Lab, told CBS News that researches found “a number of things in the stomach of the sperm whale that may have contributed to its death and are certainly disturbing.”

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