The sperm whale washed up on Paraparaumu Beach, north of Wellington, is being buried this morning at a public-excluded site near Queen Elizabeth Park.
The 15-metre, 40-tonne whale was believed to be a older adult male that had died of natural causes before it washed up on the beach in front of the Kapiti Boating Club yesterday morning.
A large crowd of onlookers gathered on the beach to touch and have photographs taken with the creature yesterday morning, before the carcass was cordoned off by Kapiti Coast District Council for health reasons.
The Conservation Department later moved the whale using diggers.
The burial, expected to be completed by noon today, was in a large grave on a public-excluded site south of Paraparaumu Beach for health reasons, because the body would soon start to discompose, DOC Kapiti area manager Rob Stone said.
On a public site there was a risk dogs would attempt to dig up the carcass, he said.
Local iwi took the jaw bone using knives, saws and hooks before the whale was buried and will also name the whale.
Kaumatua Don Te Maipi performed a karakia yesterday and said it was like a funeral. He was delighted so many people came to the beach to show their respects.
Mr Te Maipi said the whale's death was spiritually tied to the death of Bruce Mansell, a prominent local who was the managing director of Coastlands. He passed away on Tuesday.
Te Papa Museum marine mammal collection manager Anton van Helden said yesterday the whale had possibly died on the beach or very close to shore.
He believed it was an older adult male.
"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."
DOC biodiversity ranger Brent Tandy said the whale was one of the biggest he had dealt with.
"We've had a few whales wash up in the past, but none on this scale," he said.
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 yesterday when he was checking on weather for the day's sailing across to Kapiti Island and believed it had stranded just after midnight.
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.
Kapiti mayor Jenny Rowan said it was "a humbling experience to be alongside such a magnificent creature that lived nearby that we hardly ever see".
John Bole, of Paraparaumu Beach, brought his children to have a look at the whale yesterday, after seeing it out the window when he rose. He said it was not there at 9pm on Tuesday.
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 both exciting and sad.
"I have never been this close to a whale before," Mr Mackay said.
Adult male sperm whales weigh up to 57 tonnes, can be up to 20 metres long and can live for 65 years. They are found in all oceans and are classified as vulnerable.
- The Dominion Post