A large sperm whale that beached itself at Mahia on Tuesday was malnourished and came ashore to die, the Department of Conservation says.

The adult male was estimated to be about 60 years old, 15 metres long and weighed at least 50 tonnes.

It came ashore about 7am on Tuesday and died not long after, said conservation officer Malcolm Smith.

Two 20-tonne diggers, four DoC staff and a handful of volunteers were on the beach yesterday.

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Resident Bill Shortt said it was not uncommon for sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales to come ashore on the Mahia coastline.

Twice a year, whales pass New Zealand en route to the Pacific Islands to breed over winter and back to the Antarctic Ocean to feed over the summer season.

- The Gisborne Herald