Rare whale dies before rescuers reach it

The rare beaked whale which died at Bruce Bay in South Westland yesterday. Photo / Department of Conservation
The rare beaked whale which died at Bruce Bay in South Westland yesterday. Photo / Department of Conservation

A rare beaked whale stranded on a West Coast beach yesterday died before it could be refloated.

The 5.8m Cuvier's beaked whale - discovered on the Bruce Bay beach - was the third such specimen to be found on the South Westland coastline in the past two years.

Department of Conservation staff were alerted to the stranding by a local resident. Rangers were on site within hours to try to rescue it, but it died before they arrived.

"We don't yet know why this whale died," DOC acting biodiversity programme manager Paul Gasson said.

"We had hoped that we might have been able to refloat the whale and get it back out to sea, but unfortunately not this time."

Although rare in New Zealand waters, Cuvier's beaked whales are one of the more common beaked whale species worldwide.

Tissue samples will also be sent to a laboratory for analysis to get a firm identification.

A pregnant female True's beaked whale stranded near the Waiatoto River, at Haast, in November 2011 and a Shepherd's beaked whale stranded near the Cascade River last September. They are rarely seen at sea because of their elusive habits, preference for deep ocean waters and possible low abundance.

Te Runanga o Makaawhio chairman Paul Madgwick said whale strandings had always been of deep significance to Ngai Tahu, from the tribe's creation and migration stories, to the practical uses as a source of food and bones for tools and weapons. Whales were often regarded as kaitiaki (guardians of the sea) and strandings were interpreted as signs.

"It is especially significant for Ngati Mahaki ki Makaawhio that this whale was stranded only a short distance from our old pa site. We will be working closely with DOC to ensure that the carcase is treated with respect," he said.

- Greymouth Star

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