Rare dolphin washes up on beach

17:00, Sep 16 2010
RARE FIND: Massey University PhD student Emmanuelle Martinez, left, Anton van Helden and Sarah Gardner with Dr Karen Stockin examining the hourglass dolphin.

The Christchurch earthquake might have been responsible for the discovery of a rare dolphin, Massey University Albany's Karen Stockin says.

The hourglass dolphin was found dead on the shore of Flea Bay near Akaroa.

It is believed to be only the second carcass of its kind found on the New Zealand coast in the past 150 years.

The species is normally found in Antarctic waters.

Dr Stockin says the dolphin's sense of direction could have been disrupted when the 7.1 earthquake struck on September 4 in Christchurch.

The male dolphin, weighing in at 78kg and 1.7m long, underwent a postmortem at the university's Albany campus.


"Having access to this carcass is incredibly exciting for us," Dr Stockin says.

"So little is known about these animals, their diet and biology."

"It is a very special species. It is the only type of dolphin living in polar waters," she says.

Conservation Department staff first thought it was a dusky dolphin, but when the refrigerated carcass arrived at the Albany campus Dr Stockin was shocked to discover it was an hourglass dolphin.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to collect detailed data and to add significantly to the scant knowledge of this species," she says.

Te Papa Museum mammals collections manager Anton van Heldon travelled up to Auckland to assist with the postmortem.

Hourglass dolphins rarely venture out of the Southern Ocean, she says.

One theory is that it came into New Zealand waters because of changing Antarctic sea temperatures.

Researchers will collect baseline biological data from the carcass through examining its organs. Tissue samples will be sent to the university's veterinary pathology laboratory for further testing. It is hoped the preserved organs can be kept at Te Papa for animal anatomy studies.

Hourglass dolphins are easily distinguished by the white hourglass marking along the length of their bodies.

The findings of the post-mortem will be written up for publication.

North Harbour News