Big dolphin or small whale? Dead mammal found on Kāpiti beach identified

The body of what has now been identified as a risso's dolphin on Waikanae Beach, on the Kāpiti Coast.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

The body of what has now been identified as a risso's dolphin on Waikanae Beach, on the Kāpiti Coast.

It was a lonely death: the waves floating its body to the high-tide mark, a few metres from the dunes that marked the end of the beach.

The battered body of a 2.5-metre marine mammal was found washed ashore at Waikanae Beach, north of Wellington, on Tuesday.

Department of Conservation staff and local iwi were alerted, and the animal was later identified as a Risso's dolphin – the same species as Pelorus Jack, famous for meeting and escorting ships through a stretch of water in the Cook Strait, between 1888 and 1912.

The marine mammal was washed ashore at the high tide mark, very near the northern end of the beach.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

The marine mammal was washed ashore at the high tide mark, very near the northern end of the beach.

What was less clear was how the dolphin died.  "It could be related to underlying illness or old age. No sign of injury was seen," biodiversity senior ranger Brent Tandy said.

READ MORE: Humpback washes ashore in Kapiti

Measurements were taken of the dolphin for comparison within the species, and to assess its age and condition.

Beach walkers get a surprise at the sight of the 2.5-metre-long creature.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

Beach walkers get a surprise at the sight of the 2.5-metre-long creature.

"A small skin sample is taken for a tissue sample database that can be used for DNA analysis," Tandy said.

Risso's dolphins are not considered endangered, and can be found in the temperate and tropical zones of all the world's oceans. It is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as being of "least concern" worldwide, which is the lowest risk category.

Tandy said the dolphin would be buried on the beach.

DOC staff examine and measure the corpse before formally identifying it.
JOEL MAXWELL/STUFF

DOC staff examine and measure the corpse before formally identifying it.

Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai Charitable Trust environmental consultant Mahina-a-rangi Baker said wherever the dolphin was buried, the iwi would be a kaitiaki, or guardian. "Just make sure it's resting with dignity and well protected."

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In 2014 a  humpback whale about 10 metres long washed ashore on Waikanae Beach, several kilometres to the south.

 - Stuff

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