Wild seas and rainfall in Kaikoura expose ancient whale skeletons

Whale bones with a tinge of gold, probably from minerals in the sand, have been uncovered on a Kaikoura beach.
SUPPLIED/PAUL BOOCOCK

Whale bones with a tinge of gold, probably from minerals in the sand, have been uncovered on a Kaikoura beach.

A popular surf beach in Kaikoura had a tinge of gold after last week's heavy rainfall ... but it wasn't from the sand.

Heavy seas that pounded the coastline exposed large whale bones around the creek bed that runs through Jimmy Armers Beach, on the Kaikoura peninsula.

The area, once home to a whaling station, was littered with vertebrae, parts of skulls, and long curved rib bones.  

Curved rib bones are loaded onto a ute after they were uncovered at Kaikoura's Jimmy Armers Beach.
SUPPLIED/PAUL BOOCOCK

Curved rib bones are loaded onto a ute after they were uncovered at Kaikoura's Jimmy Armers Beach.

Department of Conservation community ranger Brett Cowan said the storms last week moved about a metre of sand around the river bed, exposing bones he thinks could be 100 to 150-years-old.

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Cowan and runanga senior cultural advisor Norm Kereikeepa had already taken two ute-loads away.

The photographer thinks this is the whale's blowhole and part of its skull.
SUPPLIED/PAUL BOOCOCK

The photographer thinks this is the whale's blowhole and part of its skull.

He put the golden flecks down to particular minerals in the sand, but did not think they would last once the sun bleached and dried them out.

Cowan was confident the remaining bones, which were too heavy to be pulled out would be covered up by the tides.

He said the find was not that unusual, being the site of an old whaling station.

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Whale bones had been synonymous with the cove since the days of Captain Fyffe's whaling station. 

Even Armers' home had a metre-high whale bone fence and large iron rings were still embedded in the rocks near the old wharf similar to those used by whalers to tie up the whales.

"We expect the whale bones to be uncovered after every large storm," Cowan said.

"It happens about every 18 months, every time a super storm passes there are bones to pick up from around here."

Cowan thought the skeletal remains were from large baleen, humpback and southern right whales.

"We know there are a number of mammals and the loose bones left are fragments of larger bones."

He said the sea was already starting to bury the bones again after two days.

"We are trying to discourage people from fossicking and advising people against gathering the bones, and to let the erosion and weather cover them up again."

Normally if someone came across old whale bones and they were not attached to a skeleton they could be taken, but this was a historic site, and people were not allowed to take things away, he said.

The bones could not be carved because of their age, but Cowan would like to see the bones put forward for a cultural project in the future.

Cowan was trying to get a full skeleton together to have on display.

"I know there's a lot of public interest in having the bones on display.

"We have been gathering the bones to dry them out, until they can put the project to the community for consultation."

 

 - The Marlborough Express

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