A whale stranding became a unique learning experience for students at a coastal school in Northland.

Whananaki School pupils arriving for a day of book work swapped their normal classroom for the sandy shores of Moureeses Bay for a close-up look at a whale that stranded and died yesterday.

The lone 6m long Cuvier's beaked whale was spotted splashing around in the surf by eight-year-old Zane Lines who was being driven to the school bus pick up point by his dad Bill, along with his siblings about 8.15am.

"I saw it moving around a lot and flapping about. I told Dad to stop and that there was a whale on the beach and we needed to save it. I saw it blow out its blow hole," he said.

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Having a closer look at the Cuvier's beaked whale from left are Atawhai Walters, Lachie Peters, Kyrin Edge and Logan Mander. Photo / Kristin Edge
Having a closer look at the Cuvier's beaked whale from left are Atawhai Walters, Lachie Peters, Kyrin Edge and Logan Mander. Photo / Kristin Edge

The children were dispatched on the bus to school while Bill returned home and enlisted the help of his wife Jill.

Armed with towels and buckets they returned to the whale which was still alive on the southern end of the beach.

With the help of a few other locals they tried to pull the whale back into the water but the tide was on its way out, making it difficult to manoeuvre the huge animal.

Unfortunately it died.

Bill Lines said from the road he was initially unsure if it was a shark or a whale.

"I could see the big black tail," he said.

Jill Shuttleworth and husband Bill tried with a few other locals to get the whale back in the water but it died. Photo / Kristin Edge
Jill Shuttleworth and husband Bill tried with a few other locals to get the whale back in the water but it died. Photo / Kristin Edge

He said it was uncertain how long the whale had been stranded and it needed help immediately if it was to survive.

Department of Conservation staff arrived about 10.30am and fenced off the animal and were working with iwi on next steps which involved flensing or scientific research.

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Whananaki School principal Shaun Tepania said the stranding was a fantastic opportunity to teach the children about the special taonga that whales are.

"This is an authentic learning opportunity and provides a base to learn from about the whale stranding and then to inform their families and the community," Tepania said.

He said there would be very few schools in the world that would have such an amazing learning experience.

A learning experience not many students around the world would get. Photo / Kristin Edge
A learning experience not many students around the world would get. Photo / Kristin Edge

When Tepania asked why the students had come to the beach there were numerous answers, including it was a chance to try and save the whale along with being linked to whales because they were from Ngatiwai.

But student Mary- Jane Crawford was succinct: "It's part of life."

Marine mammal expert Felix Marx, from Te Papa in Wellington, said it was not uncommon for Cuvier's beaked whales to strand along New Zealand's coastline.

The reasons for stranding varied and could include the whales being weak or old or stressing after becoming separated from their pod.

A Cuvier's beaked whale stranded and died at Moureeses Bay. Photo / Kristin Edge
A Cuvier's beaked whale stranded and died at Moureeses Bay. Photo / Kristin Edge

The multiple white spots over the whale's body were scars from wounds created by cookie cutter sharks, which bite chunks out of the whales.

By 3pm, with the help of a digger, the whale was loaded on to a trailer and taken over the hill to another beach where it was to be buried.