DOC staff assess the remains of a deceased sperm whale.
Image: DOC


The Department of Conservation is calling for information after the jawbone of dead sperm whale was illegally removed last week.

Date:  13 May 2024

DOC Senior Ranger Rosalind Cole says a deceased 15-meter-long sperm whale washed ashore on a remote part of Oreti Beach, Southland last weekend.

“Sometime between last Saturday and Monday, someone has come along with a chainsaw and taken the jawbone,” Rosalind says.

Marks on the bone and tyre tracks leading to the carcass show it was likely removed by humans rather than scavenging animals.

Removing whale bones from a beachcast animal is an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 and offenders could face fines up to $250,000.

Whale bone is a highly prized taonga for iwi which is used in carving and it was disappointing someone had stolen it before the appropriate protocols and tikanga had been observed, Rosalind says.

Ōraka Aparima Kaumātua and Kai Rongoā Muriel Johnstone says the rūnaka are extremely upset this whale was not offered its due respect in terms of tikanga.

“We know and treat whales as Rangatira (Chiefs) of the sea and as such deserve appropriate protocols said over them. This includes a farewell address and appropriate karakia. This then allows us to treat the whale as a gift from the sea and use its resources. These include the bone, teeth and oils that we use as did our ancestors.”

“We have experts at our rūnaka who have worked with whales and their management.”

“It is obvious that someone knows the value of these taonga and has deliberately removed and stolen the jaw.”

A similar instance took place in 2015 when the jaw was removed from another sperm whale that had also washed ashore at Oreti Beach. 

Anyone with any information on the missing whale bone can contact DOC on 0800 DOC HOT.


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