Dead whale buried

Theft of jaw bone both illegal and greedy

EMMA DANGERFIELD
Last updated 11:30 04/12/2012
Whale

Grand scale: The size of the huge whale can clearly be seen against the bucket of this digger.

Whale
Mammoth mouth: DOC ranger Mike Morrissey removes the remainder of a jawbone from a sperm whale which washed ashore last week north of Kaikoura

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A 45 tonne whale which washed ashore last week north of Kaikoura has been buried not far from where it was found.

The male sperm whale was reported last Monday floating out at sea, off the coast near Clarence, although it was not clear at that stage what the large object was.

Department of Conservation ranger Mike Morrissey said a fly-over of the area revealed it was in fact a dead sperm whale.

The whale remained offshore during the day, Mr Morrissey said, but drifted back and must have been washed up on the shore overnight.

Upon checking the scene the next morning, DOC rangers discovered that part of the jaw had been removed.

The area had been fenced off by contractors already working in the vicinity of the whale, and whoever had taken the jaw had broken through the barrier to steal the jaw, perhaps with the aim of trying to sell the teeth.

Mr Morrissey believed someone had been watching the whale and had seized the opportunity to steal the jawbone overnight.

The theft was both illegal and greedy, he said.

The remaining section of the jaw was removed by DOC staff and buried, and will be dug up at a later date and handed over to the marae, Mr Morrissey said, as was standard practice.

The huge whale, measuring about 14.5m (the maximum size for a sperm whale is 18m), had very distinctive markings on its tail.

Photographs and DNA samples have been sent to Otago University where a database is held and they will determine whether or not this particular whale was known to the area.

Whale Watch Kaikoura will be informed once the whale is identified.

Although there had been some speculation that the whale had been struck by a boat, Mr Morrissey ruled this out.

He believed the whale was likely to have died of natural causes.

"It probably came ashore because of those big swells and easterly winds we have been getting recently," he said.

"I'd say it had been dead for about two weeks by the time it washed up."

The whale has now been buried deep in the sand at the low tide mark, with the help of contractors with diggers.

It will be left to decompose naturally.

Although there had at one stage been a spate of whales washing up, around one a year for a number of years, this was the first to wash up for about three or four years, said Mr Morrissey.

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- The Marlborough Express

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