Second whale found

22:31, Apr 01 2009
LAST MOMENTS: DOC staff and Project Jonah volunteers with the rare gray’s beaked whale before it was euthanised at Stanmore Bay.

Another beaked whale has been found dead, this time on rocks near Tindalls Bay at Whangaparaoa.

Residents walking round to Army Bay at low tide on Sunday left messages about the find on the Conservation Department’s answerphone.

Resident Leonie Lawson believes the whale is another juvenile gray’s beaked whale, about three metres long, which she recognised from photos of one euthanised after stranding at Stanmore Bay on February 28.

She says it appeared fresh, had blood pouring from its mouth and had been badly scraped.

A strap-toothed beaked whale also stranded in Napier on Sunday.

A post mortem of the Stanmore Bay gray’s beaked whale by Massey University marine experts led by Dr Karen Stockin showed severe emaciation in the 3.7 metre juvenile male.

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He had ulcers along his oesophagus, a diminished blubber layer about half the thickness of what it should be, and had not fed in the days prior to its death.

Further tests will determine the cause of severe congestion found in the whale’s liver.

Conservation Department spokeswoman Liz Maire says the findings show the decision not to refloat the stranded whale was in its best interest.

"DOC only refloats stranded marine mammals when the animal is in good health. Sadly this was not the case and the post mortem has confirmed how sick this animal was. He would have been highly likely to restrand, causing further stress and injury, and prolonging the inevitable," she says.

"Euthanising the whale at sea was not a viable or humane option either. Trying to shoot a moving whale would have been very difficult and may only have injured it and caused further suffering."

Attempts were made to see if the animal would follow a boat out to deep water but he kept turning back, she says.

"A United Kingdom expert on beaked whales, Colin McLeod, was contacted for advice and said that in the cold waters of the United Kingdom a whale in that condition would have already died.

"If it had been possible to move it out to the open ocean, then it would have died of hypothermia."

DOC staff, Project Jonah volunteers and Massey University scientists monitored the whale for three weeks.

"I totally understand why people are upset. From their perspective shooting a whale is not ‘conservation’, however the whale’s welfare was our top priority," says Dr Stockin.

Ms Maire says despite the sad ending, having a live beaked whale in coastal waters meant many locals had an encounter with a rare marine species.

A New Zealand expert on beaked whales, Anton van Helden, who has studied them for 20 years, has never seen one alive, she says.

Stanmore Bay’s Wendy Hammond says she doesn’t believe the whale was sick the whole time.

"I have a friend who works with whales at Australia Zoo and they said it was very odd that they didn’t try and do anything about it at the beginning.

"We may not know much about whales, but we feel that they were keen to use it for research.

"The whole thing was denied an explanation, they wouldn’t allow us to do anything. We were told in the first week it would be relocated, and we are angry. There were so many people at the beach and they didn’t let us help or participate, and we would have given it our all."

She says a local lady in a dive suit swum right up to the whale and it was trying to tell her something.

"Animals know when humans want to help them."

But Alex Simpson from Hatfields Beach says DOC was caught between a rock and a hard place when deciding whether to euthanise.

"Some people are angry, saying that the whale should have been euthanised weeks ago, while others are furious that the whale was euthanised at all.

"The fact of the matter is, the whale was sick and pushing it out to sea would have prolonged its suffering.

He says criticism of groups such as Project Jonah is unfair.

"Unfortunately it’s not the ending we would have liked but what a shame that we’re pointing fingers of blame at each other now."

Rodney Times