Praise has been heaped on those who came together to spend the last weekend of 2017 helping bury a 16m-long whale which washed up on a northern Hawke's Bay beach.

Crowds of onlookers gathered at Mahia Beach on the last day of 2017 to witness the final journey of the sperm whale, which washed up on Friday night, and died from natural causes about 8am on Saturday.

Early Sunday morning work began to move the whale's body - which was about 50m offshore - on to the beach for burial. From 6.30am several diggers were used to roll the whale up the beach. After being moved to the high tide mark in the afternoon, local iwi removed its jaw bone and teeth.

Finally on Sunday evening, the whale was buried in an 8m-deep grave in the sand dunes, Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jamie Quirk said.


For many of the DoC staff and local iwi, this marked the end of a long weekend - some worked up to 14 hours on Sunday, following a day of 12 hours on Saturday.

Coming between Christmas and the New Year, Mr Quirk said it was a difficult time of the year to gather the resources to get the job done.

However, he praised local iwi, and contractors, whose help meant the whale could be buried in just two days.

"We had to get everything in the right place at the right time.

"It's a bit of a Kiwi thing, everyone helps out at times of adversity. We're very lucky."

He said the large crowd who watched Sunday's events had been very well behaved, and "they learnt a lot more about the majestic creatures which float around their local waters."

Mr Quirk said DoC would be monitoring the grave in the coming days, just to make sure there were no issues.

"Just making sure it's buried as deep as we can get it, just so it doesn't create a nuisance for the locals," he said. "We hope there won't be any issues with it."

As for the bone and teeth taken from the whale, these would be used for cultural purposes - whales are sacred to Maori and for centuries their teeth and bones have been used by Maori for carving. Historically the whale's oil and meat were also used.

The whale was a male about 16.1m long. It's teeth were "very worn", and it was quite skinny. This showed the mammal was likely to be quite old.

If people saw a stranded whale they should call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).