WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — The bones of a juvenile humpback whale that have been displayed in Hawaii for more than 30 years were returned to the sea last week.

The whale that became beached in January 1986 on Kahoolawe — the small island near Maui — was returned to the waters off that coast in a ceremony recognizing Native Hawaiian cultural practices, The Maui News reported this week.

The U.S. Navy, which controlled Kahoolawe when the whale washed ashore, turned over disposal of the whale to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which handed it over to the Pacific Whale Foundation.

The foundation reconstructed the skeleton and displayed until 1988. It was then transferred to the Bishop Museum, which displayed it at the Hawaii Maritime Center until it closed in 2009.

NOAA, which has authority for the retention of marine mammal parts, authorized the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to coordinate efforts for the bones to be returned to the ocean.

"This kohola (humpback whale) brought together entities on how to respond to and care for stranded marine animals," said Craig Neff, who organized the whale's return on behalf of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana organization. "Hopefully, this experience can set a standard on how to respect, trust and work with all Native Hawaiian practitioners for the best interests of our marine life."

In Hawaiian tradition, the humpback whale is considered sacred because it is the body form of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean, Neff said.

"This is a good example of finding a balance between management, science and Native Hawaiian cultural practices," said Michael Nahoopii, executive director of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

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Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com