Introduction

A rare beaked whale has washed up on a remote Westland beach—the third specimen of this whale type to be found on this coastline in the last two years.

Date:  05 April 2013

A rare beaked whale has washed up on a remote Westland beach—the third specimen of this whale type to be found on this coastline in the last two years.

Yesterday DOC staff responded to an alert that the marine mammal was stranded on the beach at Bruce Bay, about 200 km south of Hokitika, and rangers were on site within hours to try to rescue it.

Beaked whale on beach.

Unfortunately, the whale died before they arrived at the scene.

“We don’t yet know why this whale died,” said Acting Biodiversity Programme Manager Paul Gasson. 

“We had hoped that we might have been able to refloat the whale and get it back out to sea, but unfortunately not this time.” 

The whale has been identified as a Cuvier’s beaked whale—one of the more common beaked whale species worldwide. Tissue samples will also be sent to a laboratory for analysis to get a firm identification. 

Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio chairman, Paul Madgwick, said whale strandings had always been of deep significance to Ngāi Tahu, from the tribe's creation and migration stories to the practical uses of whales as a source of food and bones for tools and weapons.

Whales were often regarded as kaitiaki (guardians of the sea) and strandings were interpreted as signs.

"It is especially significant for Ngāti Mahaki ki Makaawhio that this whale was stranded only a short distance from our old pā site. We will be working closely with DOC to ensure that the carcase is treated with respect," he said.  

Beaked whale on beach.

Background information

  • A pregnant female True’s beaked whale stranded near the Waiatoto River in November 2011 and a Shepherd’s beaked whale stranded near the Cascade River in September 2012.
  • There are 21 species of beaked whale that are currently recognised worldwide, of which 12 occur in New Zealand waters. Five of the 21 species were first described from animals stranded in NZ.
  • With a few exceptions, many beaked whale species are known from only a handful of specimens.
  • NZ has the greatest number of different species of beaked whales in the world.
  • They are rarely seen at sea because of their elusive habits, preference for deep ocean waters and possible low abundance. Most of what is known about them has come from strandings.
  • They are usually seen single, in pairs or in small groups. 
  • They are deep divers and feed largely on soft bodied animals like squid.


Related link

Whales

Contact

Cornelia Vervoorn: +64 3 752 0084, cvervoorn@doc.govt.nz

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