An adult female sperm whale found decomposing on Ripiro Beach had its lower jaw hacked off by a souvenir hunter, with the person responsible facing a large fine or jail term if caught.
The whale appeared to have died of natural causes, with its carcass heavily feasted on by fish and seabirds before washing ashore and then being hacked at by humans last week.
The removal of the lower jaw was of concern to both Department of Conservation (DOC) and local iwi Te Roroa for health, cultural and legal reasons.
"It is illegal to remove any part of a marine mammal, alive or dead, without a permit from DOC. This includes whales, seals and dolphins," DOC's Kauri Coast senior biodiversity ranger Barbara Searle said.
The whale, over 11 metres long, was found between Omamari and Baylys Beach, at the high-tide mark. There were no signs of it having been harpooned or injured in a net, Ms Searle said.
No necropsy (an autopsy on an animal) was carried out and the carcass has now been buried where it was found.
Where practical, local iwi are offered the chance to remove bones or teeth from whale carcasses for cultural or training purposes. The penalty for taking any part of a marine mammal is up to five years in prison and/or a fine not exceeding $300,000, under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. People are advised not to get too close to dead whales because they can carry viruses, bacteria and parasites that can be transferred to humans.
While marine mammals occasionally wash up on the 100 kilometre long Ripiro Beach, pilot and pygmy sperm species are more common than adult sperm whales.
Females reach maturity at around 9 years old and give birth roughly once every five years to one calf. The largest of the toothed whales, they can live for 70 years, with females growing up to 12 metres and males slightly longer.
A dead female orca was washed up on Mangawhai Beach last Friday while two rare Gray's beaked whales were discovered dead on Ruakaka Beach on March 9.
- Anyone coming across a stranded whale, dead or alive, should contact DOC on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).