Kealoha Pisciotta and Roxanne Stewart, both longtime, recognized cultural practitioners who have worked extensively with marine mammals, have been charged with a “take” of a whale and face the charges and fines, for the cultural caretaker ship of a dying whale.

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A takeis defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) askilling , harming, injuring or the intent to harm, injury or killing any Marine Mammal”. Neither of them harmed the whale in any way.  Neither of them have ever taken anything from any of the animals they have cared for.  Neither of them has ever done anything wrong whatsoever in their capacity as caretakers.  Yet they are being prosecuted by NOAA - Why?

NOAA/NMFS has given “incidental take” permits for the U.S. Navy Sonar testing within the Hawaiian-California Corridor Area that could result in the unnecessary deaths of tens to hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, and other Kanaloa (or divine bodily forms of Kanaloa, such as Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals, Honu, Sharks etc).

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  Photos by Elyse Butler

Photos by Elyse Butler

Here is what happened:

In approximately 2009, NOAA recognized the need to work with cultural practitioners in the care of Monk Seals, Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals (Dolphins and small Whales) that have been injured and or dying. Now such Marine Mammals have been appearing more frequently in Hawaiʻi -- possibly due to military sonar use and related activities. 

NOAA hired a Native Hawaiian community outreach person (Erika Hoou Perry) to begin to form a Cultural Practitioner Network for this purpose and also to help with the Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility (HCRF) in Hilo.  Many in the Hawaiian community referred NOAA to Kealoha and Roxy, because of their known skill, gentle strength, and cultural competence.

NOTE: The HCRF Rehab facility was the only facility in the entire Pacific that could rehabilitate Dolphins and small Whales. It was shut down by NOAA in 2010, after Kamaui (see below). Now there is no facility at all capable of intensive rehabilitation. 

Wakini--the Striped Dolphin

In 2009, a male striped dolphin (a deep-water species) named “Waikini” by the Miloli’i ‘Ohana who cared for him initially was later transported to the Hawaiʻi Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility (HCRF). Kealoha and Roxanne spent hours in the water with Wakini, alongside facility volunteers, until Wakini passed peacefully.  Everyone who had worked with him was exhausted and sad, but moved by the important work they had all done together.  The volunteers were grateful for the presence of the cultural practitioners, and a positive working relationship was established.

Kamāui--the Blainville Beaked Whale

In 2010, a Blainville's beaked whale named Kamāui was brought to the facility from the island of Maui.  He was brought to Hilo over many objections against NOAA taking Kamaui to Hilo since it is generally considered a blessing and a gift if a Kanaloa comes forth from the sea. Roxanne worked hard with the Maui Practitioners quell some of that frustration and they all agreed to put things aside to care for Kamaui.

Kamaui lived for 14 days, during which time the cultural practitioners and volunteers cared for him 24/7.  That is the longest time in history that a Beaked Whale like Kamui has stayed alive in captivity. Strong mutual bonds formed between Kam
āui, the 240 facility volunteers, and the cultural practitioners who cared for him.  When he passed, everyone was in a state of devastation and grief, compounded by the exhaustion of such a long and gruelling vigil.

Immediately after Kamāui’s passing, HPU (Hawaii Pacific University) staff arrived with a take permitthat allowed them to perform a necropsy*, to remove Kamāui’s bones for a bone museumthey have been building.  Rather than transport his body to Oʻahu whole, they began perform the necropsy in the rehabilitation facility where he had just passed. The volunteers were traumatized terribly, having to step in the blood of the dear friend they had spent weeks caring for, night and day.  HPU staff left behind 29 trash bags full of flesh, saying you can have this.”  Volunteers who had barely slept in 14 days now had to dispose of Kamauis remains that HPU did not want and to clean up the enormous bloody mess that HPU just left behind. 

Shortly after this event, NOAA cut off funding to the rehab facility entirely, and shut it down.  Now there is no rehab facility anywhere else in the entire Pacific region. Without a Rehab facility there is no where to rehabilitate Dolphins and small Whales back into the wild.

Wānanalua-a small Melon-Headed Whale

In 2014, community members spotted a melon-headed whale struggling in Kawaihae Harbor.  There had been two prophecies of her arrival; one from the Hawaiian community, and one from a Cree seer. Thus, she was named Wānanalua” (“Double Prophecy).  Community members alerted cultural practitioners Roxanne and Kealoha, and they went to help.

Kealoha and Roxanne arrived at about 3 P.M. Volunteers from the West side Marine Mammal Rescue Network had been there also..  Everyone in the water worked to hold her gently in the water to assist her so she would not need to struggle to breathe.  Other practitioners, including Auntie Pua Case from Waimea and her hālau and a Maori culturally assisted also, with some of the Halau helping in the water and others from the shore holding Prayers and singing songs to sooth Wananalua.

As Wānanalua was dying naturally, there was no need for euthanization. HPU has requested to that euthanize her but their request was declined by Practitioners from that area, again from a cultural standpoint practitioners cannot assist with that since to do so would be to remove the Kanaloas free will to live and or to die on their own terms. The offer was declined, and this was communicated to the HPU personnel kindly and respectfully. Remember, no NOAA personnel except network Volunteers were present on the scene.

Eventually, after nightfall, everyone had left except for Kealoha and Roxanne.  The Hālau and volunteers left, with blessings.  Roxanne and Kealoha stayed with Wānanalua, as it is their practice not to leave a Kanaloa.. In some case that can be hours and even days. At about 1:30 A.M., Wānanalua passed on peacefully, under the loving care of Kealoha and Roxanne.  They wrapped her body to protect it from predators and stayed with her in the water all night. 

At about dawn, a boat came by and Cultural practitioners were onboard.  They knew Kealoha and Roxanne and had offered to help.  They could help to take Wānanalua’s body out to sea, and assist in making sure that she returned to her ocean home in a pono, ceremonial way.  There was no other plan in place, NOAA had not spoken with either Roxanne or Kealoha nor were any HPU personnel present as they had they all left without informing anyone. So Wānanalua was returned to her ancestors, and the deep ocean that was her home, with ceremony and great aloha.  

Kealoha and Roxanne were shocked when, much later, they were charged with theftwhich is described as a takingunder the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and “Transport” of Wānanalua’s body.  Federal agents came to the school where Roxanne teaches in front of her students and colleagues.  Kealoha would have to appear in court during an election season, in which she is running for State Representative of District 3 (Puna).  Both are hard-working community activists, with little time or money to spare.  Kealoha has been the lead plaintiff of the Mauna Kea Hui, who fought the original contested case for Mauna Kea all the way through the Supreme Court decision that stopped TMT bulldozers, and is still in leadership in the current contested case against TMT. 

Kealoha and Roxanne need help.  Standing up for themselves has already cost a lot.  Please donate to help them defend their work as cultural practitioners.  

Aloha and Mahalo!!

Ola i ke Au a Kanaloa--Life to the Realms of the Sea!!!!

NOTE: A necropsy is similar to an autopsy; in Kamauiʻs case, it meant cutting him up totally, primarily so that HPU could procure his bones. To be clear neither Roxy nor Kealoha are opposed to Necropsies as a whole.  They do have cultural bars on them regarding euthanizing since they as practitioners cannot participate in putting a Kanaloa to death unnecessarily.

Kai Palaoa and Wananalua in the press

Hawaiian Airlines Hana Hou Magazine article from a few years back about Kai Palaoa guys, and the Kāmaui story:


Kai Palaoa’s Press Statement:   


Star Advertiser article 2/15/16:  


NBC News article 8/26/16