Dead sperm whale towed clear of Whangarei Harbour

Publish Date
Wednesday, 31 May 2017, 11:52AM

A dead sperm whale has been towed from Whangarei Harbour after officials became concerned it would become a shipping hazard.

The whale, estimated to be about 10m long was spotted on Mair Bank, a sandbank jutting into the Whangarei Harbour entry off Marsden Pt, about 8.30am yesterday.

Department of Conservation spokeswoman Abigail Monteith said there was concern that with the incoming tide the whale would float into the shipping channels and become a hazard so a team embarked on the task of towing the whale to shore. A tug was also used.

She said local iwi had been alerted and a digger driver from the Bream Bay area had also been called on to haul the whale on to the beach.

By 1pm the whale was 50m off the beach and secured with a tail rope that was attached to the tow ball of a Doc ute.

When the digger arrived the whale was pulled in.

Doc biodiversity ranger Neil Forrester said the whale, thought to be a juvenile, had been spotted the day before and it was possible it had become stuck on the sandbank as it tried to leave and was stranded overnight.

Members of the public reported seeing the whale swimming around slowly in the water off Urquharts Bay on Monday.

Mr Forrester said the whale was now in an area of the beach where other whales had been buried over the years.

Ngatiwai kaumatua Hori Parata, an expert in tikanga relating to stranded whales, said he would get a team together and on Friday they would remove the bones.

"The bones will be used for making toanga," he said.

Guards were going to remain with the whale last night and today before the work could begin.

Forest and Bird marine mammal expert Anton van Helden said sperm whale strandings were not uncommon in Northland with records showing most had come ashore on the region's west coast.

The last time a sperm whale had stranded on Ruakaka beach was in 1944, and was a male about 7m long. Sperm whale strandings in Northland have also included Waimamaku, Hokianga Harbour, Baylys Beach, Maunganui Bluff, Ninety Mile Beach, North Cape and Coopers Beach, Oakura and Whananaki.

Mr van Helden said sperm whales preferred deeper water and while Kaikoura was home to many they were present in the ocean around all of New Zealand.

Adult male sperm whales can grow up to 18m. Sperm whales are toothed whales and dive to great depths to feed. They eat large organisms, mainly squids, but males are also likely to eat fish including sharks and rays.

This article was first published on NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.