HPU stranded mammal program money cut

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Government budget cuts have trickled down affecting Hawaii Pacific University.

Grant money that a HPU program had been getting the last seven years was not given to the school this year.

The cut amounts to two-thirds of the money used to fund the marine mammal stranding program.

It helps get beached whales and dolphins removed.

Dr. West speaks passionately about the stranding program she started at HPU seven years ago.

“We respond to the event we conduct necropsies which is the equivalent of the human autopsy in order to examine every organ system try to determine what caused the death of that individual,” Hawaii Pacific University Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Kristi West said.

Last week, she found out a $100,000 grant the program normally qualifies for was not awarded it this year.

“We’re one of the 28 that would have been funded under normal levels based on our scores and our review of our competitive proposal but this year we’re not selected among those 12 across the nation,” Dr. West said.

She says the Prescott Grant program used to give out $4 million in grants to 40 organizations across the nation.

This year they are only giving out $1 million.

Only 12 organizations were awarded grants this year.

“We’re currently scrambling HPU is trying to step in and help us in the short-term to make sure the program can keep running. We’re going to be starting to diversify our efforts by obtaining future funding support possibly through charitable giving and other organizations,” Dr. West said.

She says the grant money was used for things like gas to get to stranding sites and cargo fees to bring animal carcasses to Oahu from other islands.

And those carcasses are used to help teach students at HPU.

“We are hopeful that people realize that the consequences of these cuts is that we’re going to be having dolphins and whales washing up scaled back responses and the inability to really continue to monitor the health of Hawaii’s dolphins and whales to the extent that we have been,” Dr. West said.

The stranding program at HPU works closely with NOAA when mammals wash ashore.

“I think it puts a strain on everybody but we’re going to work towards doing the best we can so we’re going to work with HPU to the best we can given the resources available,” NOAA Marine Mammal Health & Response coordinator David Schofield said.

“The reality is here is that most people who do this kind of work its in their hearts to do it and so we’re going to continue to try to do the very best that we can to respond to animals despite the funding challenges that we are right now faced with,” Dr. West said.

This year, HPU has assisted with five humpback whale carcasses that have washed ashore statewide.

Other grant money has been given to the program but not enough to restore the funding cut.

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