The humpback whale sighted in the Bay of Islands with a rope bound around its head is thought to have died.
The search was called off after an extensive two day hunt from the air and on the water for the distressed young adult humpback last seen near Deep Water Cove at dusk on Thursday afternoon.
Local marine mammal expert Floppy Halliday said the animal was holding its head in a strange position then, indicating the rope was still attached to a craypot or other item and weighing the whale's head down.
A rescue team had been brought in to attempt to cut the rope, a tricky procedure but one carried out successfully in other incidents. However, by morning there was no sign of the whale and a Department of Conservation air and sea search had to be called off because of deteriorating weather and rough seas.
There were no sighting over the next two days' search either.
A DoC spokeswoman said messages have been relayed through Coastguard and Russell Radio for any vessels in the area to keep watch and report any sightings of the whale.
Any boaties or people along the coast who sighted the whale should report it as soon as possible to DoC's emergency line 0800 DOC HOT or Whale Rescue, 0800SAVEWHALE.