Introduction

Samples taken by Department of Conservation (DOC) staff, from four Gray’s beaked whales which stranded and subsequently died at the eastern end of Papamoa beach last Saturday 21 January are being sent to Massey University today for analysis.

Date:  23 January 2012

Samples taken by Department of Conservation (DOC) staff, from four Gray’s beaked whales which stranded and subsequently died at the eastern end of Papamoa beach last Saturday 21 January are being sent to Massey University today for analysis.

DOC staff received a report of whales (two nursing adult females and two calves) at approximately 9.55am on Saturday morning, at which time they were already deceased.  Local iwi representatives and Project Jonah volunteers assisted DOC staff to collect the samples, karakia and bury the whales, which was completed by approximately 5pm on Saturday.

The cause of the stranding is not yet known.

DOC Biodiversity Programme Manager Chris Clark, who attended the stranding, says DOC’s standard processes were followed – this involved collecting measurements, observations, blood and tissue samples from heart, lungs, liver, stomach and blubber.  Testing of the samples is expected to reveal whether the whales had been exposed to toxins or ingested any foreign materials.

“We consulted our marine specialists at the time and did consider removing the entire carcasses for full necropsy. Due to the location and size of the whales and the logistics involved, it was decided that our standard sampling regime would suffice in this instance,” said Tauranga Area Manager, Andrew Baucke.

 “We have had more whale strandings than usual on the Papamoa coastline this summer, and we are very aware of the increased toxins, debris and sonar activity in the area due to the Rena incident.  We will be working with our marine specialists and iwi to determine what sampling and testing regime is most appropriate in the event of any further strandings and how these can best be facilitated logistically.”

Full necropsy and CT scanning was undertaken last October on a Gray’s beaked whale that stranded at Papamoa beach. The cause of that stranding remains unknown and DOC has received no evidence to indicate that the use of ship sonar in the region was a contributing factor.

DOC has recorded between 2-12 strandings per year in the wider Bay of Plenty over the last ten years, with Pygmy Sperm and Gray’s Beaked whales being the most common stranded species.

The Department of Conservation is the agency responsible for the protection and care of marine mammals and the public are encouraged to alert DOC of any whale strandings as quickly as possible by calling 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468), so that the necessary care be arranged for the whales and their chance of rescue increased. 

Background information

As at 3 November 2011, annual stranding records for Bay of Plenty (Whangamata – Lottin Point) for past ten years ranged between 2 and 12 individuals per year. Pygmy Sperm (21), Gray’s Beaked Whale (14) and common dolphin (12) have been the most commonly recorded stranded species in the region over the last decade.

Strandings are more common from November to April.

Contact

Katrina Knill, Tauranga Area Office. Ph +64 7 571 2737 or kknill@doc.govt.nz

See also

Marine mammals for general information about whales, dolphins and seals

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