A 15-metre sperm whale has washed up on Paraparaumu Beach north of Wellington overnight.
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Crowds of people flocked to the beach early this morning to touch and have photographs taken with the giant, which beached in the sand in front of the Kapiti Boating Club.
Local kaumatua performed a karakia on the beach and tangata whenua and the Department of Conservation were working out where to take it today. Local iwi often removed the jaw before it was buried.
A DOC spokesman said they were hoping to move the whale today, as the tide washing in would start to bury it in the beach. The carcass had been cordoned off by Kapiti Coast District Council.
Te Papa Museum marine mammal collection manager Anton van Helden said the "old" adult male sperm whale was freshly dead and had possibly died on the beach or very close to shore.
"There is considerable wear on the teeth and a lot of white scarring on the skin," van Helden said.
"It probably died of suffocation due to being stranded but what caused it to come in is another equation.
"They may suffer the same old age conditions as we do such as heart disease and arthritis, which could contribute to the cause of death."
A local fisherman said he had seen a whale thrashing around between the shore and Kapiti Island over the past few days.
Kapiti Marine Charters' Ross Leger came across the whale just after 6am when he was checking on weather for the day's sailing across to Kapiti Island.
"By the look of it and position on the beach, I would think it was around about [12am to 1am] last night on the high tide."
He recalled a stranding at Paekakariki about 10 years ago and said there was a major stranding of about 18 orca in 1952.
Waikanae's Damian Parata, of Whakarongotai marae, said a dead sperm whale washed up on Peka Peka Beach eight years ago after a stormy night. He said that whale was about 17 years old.
John Bole, of Paraparaumu Beach, brought his children to have a look at the whale this morning, after seeing it out the window when he rose. He said it was not there at 9pm last night.
Tessa Mackay, 9, managed to touch the whale before DOC cordoned the body off.
"It is pretty warm. It is sad for such a huge animal," she said.
Her father, Iain Mackay said it was quite exciting as well as sad.
"I have never been this close to a whale before," he said.
Adult male sperm whales weigh up to 57 tonnes, can be up to 20 metres long and live for 65 years. They are found in all oceans and are classified as vulnerable.
Three sperm whales were stranded on Paekakariki Beach in 1963.
- The Dominion Post