Whale carcasses could be buried or washed out to sea
The carcasses of more than 300 whales that died after a mass stranding on Farewell Spit will either be buried or left to decompose at sea.
Most of the 416 whales that stranded in Golden Bay died after beaching late on Thursday night.
Department of Conservation (DOC) marine species and threats manager Ian Angus said DOC, the local council and iwi would work together to remove the carcasses.
A few whales would go to Massey university where experts would perform necropsies – animal autopsies, Angus said.
This would hopefully shed some light on why the stranding happened and help scientists learn more about the whales.
The remaining carcasses would most likely be buried locally or left to be washed out to sea and decompose on the sea floor.
It would come down to balancing iwi wishes with what was practical, he said.
Dead whales were often left on the beach to be washed out to sea, where they decomposed on the ocean floor.
Once a carcass sinks, it becomes home to scavengers.
Sharks would then consume the whale's easily accessible flesh. When the bulk of muscle and blubber was gone, organisms like snails, worms and bacteria, would settle in.
When a whale carcass decomposes at the bottom of the ocean, it's called a whale fall. The carcass can host its own ecosystem and provide food in an area of the ocean that is not usually rich in nutrients.
Angus said there was a potential human health risk in leaving the carcasses to decompose on the beach or at sea.
There was also the chance they could wash up on another beach next week, he said.
Burying the carcasses was a possibility but heavy machinery would have to be able to access the beach, and council would have to make a local plot available.
There were too many whales to transport them all out of the area for burial.
Whale Rescue technical adviser Steve Whitehouse said DOC usually towed carcasses out to sea when whales stranded and died at Farewell Spit. Sometimes they were left to rot on the beach.
Sometimes the bones were taken from the larger whales for traditional Maori carvers, Whitehouse said.