A whale washed up on Porongahau Beach in Southern Hawke's Bay yesterday.
DoC marine ranger Rod Hansen said the 3m pygmy sperm whale was found dead about 200m from the local campground.
It had likely died of natural causes.
"Whales are a bit like humans, they have a fear of drowning," he said. "Often they come into shallow water so they can rest on the bottom."
He said sickness may have drawn the whale into shore. It was not common to see this species close up.
"We get the odd one every now and then. A few locals said it was the first whale of its kind they'd seen."
The whale's body was blessed by local Iwi and moved by a digger up the beach, where it was buried.
Local Maori resident Raina Ferris said her husband, Doc Ferris, did a karakia for the whale, and she and the ladies did a karanga.
"That's how we honour the children of Tangaroa, who is the god of the sea," she said. "We believe animals are connected with us - they are our elders."
Pygmy sperm whales are not often sighted at sea, and most data comes from stranded specimens.