The whale found slumped across the bow of a ship as it arrived in Tauranga is believed to have been the victim of "an unfortunate accident".

Department of Conservation staff were dealing with the dead Bryde's whale today. They were contacted after the ship and whale arrived in the Port of Tauranga about 11.30am yesterday.

Department of Conservation's Steve Brightwell said the whale was dead when it arrived and staff were now working with tangata whenua to establish a burial site.

The whale measured 12m to 14m long and was removed from the ship late yesterday, he said.

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The whale's body was stored overnight and would be buried later today, in consultation with iwi.

"At this stage it looks like it was an unfortunate accident at sea. Boat strike with the type of whale is not uncommon or unknown."

Mr Brightwell said there was a speed restriction on large ships travelling for the Hauraki Gulf, for that very reason. However, the ship the whale was found on had not travelled through the gulf, he said.

Marine life kayaker Nathan Pettigrew said he has seen Bryde's whales in local waters and has paddled with them "from time to time".