Rescue bid fails to save stranded whale
A southern bottlenose whale died after becoming stranded on Wanganui's South Beach, despite the best efforts of a group of campers.
On Thursday morning, Lorraine Gannon's party arrived to set up camp for the Eides $40,000 Surf Fishing Contest. About 6.30pm, they noticed a large shape thrashing around among the waves, caught on a sandbar.
"It was trying to get off. There was nothing we could do and we hoped it would get off and go back out to sea," she said.
When the whale swam into the beach and became stranded, the group rang the Conservation Department and joined staff to pour buckets of water over the whale and attempt to stop it moving further inshore. Their efforts were made more difficult by the size of the whale and the fact it was still thrashing around.
By 8.30pm the marine mammal had died and a karakia was said for it.
Tupoho elder John Maihi said the karakia was performed to help the whale rest in peace.
"It's a child of Tangaroa, a child of the gods, so we are respecting that."
Conservation Department staff stayed the night at the beach. They slept in their vehicles and were supplied with tea and dry clothes by the campers.
Yesterday morning, Mr Maihi arrived to talk about what to do with the body of the whale.
Local Maori and Conservation Department staff agreed to bury the female whale in nearby sand dunes and talk more with staff from national museum Te Papa to come up with a protocol for taking deeper samples from stranded whales for study purposes.
Conservation Department staff had already taken skin and blubber samples from the dead whale, with the agreement of iwi.
Deeper samples could reveal what the whales eat and why this one died.
Conservation Department biodiversity manager Jim Campbell said southern bottlenose whales were usually found in deep Antarctic waters. They used their powerful tails to dive deep and hunted soft creatures, such as squid and jellyfish.
The female southern bottlenose whale which stranded at South Beach was scarred and could have been attacked by a shark.
Mr Campbell was unsure why the whale had died.
"It could be old. It could be sick," he said.
"It could have parasites. They get diseases and things just like us."
Southern bottlenose whales
- Probably the most common Antarctic whale.
- Northern limit is New Zealand's North Island.
- Weigh 6-8 tonnes.
- Are 8-10 metres long.
- Are seldom hunted.