Beached whales 'a gift' for research group

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013
Southland Times photo
NEIL RATLEY/Fairfax NZ
BEACHED: A beaked whale which stranded on a Southland beach at the weekend.

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The death of two Arnoux's beaked whales will, it is hoped, provide scientists with greater knowledge of the rare whales.

A group of researchers, headed by Professor Ewan Fordyce from the University of Otago, has arrived in Invercargill to begin examining the whale that beached itself at Sandy Point on Monday.

With the consent of the Department of Conservation and iwi, Prof Fordyce said it was possible some good could come from the whales' deaths.

"A stranded animal, putting aside the sad aspect of its death, is a bit of a gift from the sea to help us understand the species a bit more," he said.

"Mostly these animals live and die at sea and we don't get to look at them closely."

The Arnoux's beaked whale was an oceanic species - first named in the New Zealand region in 1851 - and it was uncommon to find them close to shore and shallow water, Prof Fordyce said.

"Scientists don't understand the species' habits too much except they like deep water, feed on squid and may be able to dive to depths of more than one kilometre."

The researchers would do a basic autopsy, collect samples and look at the internal organs for any obvious signs or reasons why the animal came to be stranded, he said.

"It is a long shot. There could be a number of factors, some unknown, as to why the whale ended up stranded," Prof Fordyce said.

The lure of the Southern Ocean, a rich source of food, could have brought the beaked whales to the south of New Zealand but why the whales would enter the estuary was a mystery, he said.

"The whales' deaths are a tragedy and the scientific community is duty bound to try and learn as much as possible from an occurrence like this."

Department of Conservation biodiversity programme manager Jessyca Bernard said while there was nothing more that could have been done to save the whales, the scientific research following their deaths could lead to something positive.

Meanwhile the boy who was the first one to spot the original beached whale at Omaui on Saturday said he was very sad to hear DOC had euthanised the animal.

Selwyn Crowley-Adams, 9, spotted the whale while he and his mother were driving through Omaui. "I saw the flipper go up and down. I knew it was a whale."

Selwyn spent two hours in the water with the whale "patting it and talking to it", he said.

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- The Southland Times

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