Workers from Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa iwi yesterday recovered the bones and teeth of a 14m-long sperm whale found dead on a South Wairarapa coastal beach.
Iwi authority chief executive PJ Devonshire said the carcass of the whale - an adult male weighing about 48 tonnes - was discovered washed up and lying between rocks on a beach south of Glenburn near Honeycomb Rock a week ago Saturday.
A Department of Conservation ranger believed the animal had died of old age.
He said the DoC Honeycomb walkway extended along the stretch of coast where the whale was found and a group from the iwi had travelled to the location on Tuesday, securing and blessing the carcass in a ceremony during which the whale was also named Te Pani o te Moana - orphan of the ocean.
The name given to the whale also recalled the deaths over past weeks of several Maori elders including Masterton kaumatua Pani Himona, who died on January 25 this year, Ngati Porou leader Apirana Mahuika, who was farewelled at a tangi last week, and Kahungunu elder and Maori performing arts leader Tama Turanga Huata, who died on Wednesday.
"Tradition says we should name the whale. The name Pani describes an orphan and is also a word used for how you feel when you lose someone," he said.
"We have lost two senior elders nationally and Uncle Pani Himona here at home, and to have the whale come to us this way as well, the name is a connection for us all. It is symbolic of the passing of our elders."
Genburn Station owners John and Helen McFadzean had been alerted to the whale after fielding a call from a 77-year-old station guest who discovered the carcass a week ago Saturday while cycling a coastal route to nearby Pahau, Mrs McFadzean said.
The carcass was seen floating in waters off the coast a day earlier, she said, and the naming and blessing ceremony last week had drawn a small crowd of guests captivated by the spectacle.
Mr Devonshire said the recovery of taonga, or treasure, from the carcass of the whale included waiata and karakia - songs and prayer - and will precede meetings about the distribution and cultural uses of the "resources" across marae throughout the region.
"We will take the ribs and the jaw and try to process and utilise as much of the whale as we can. We will take as much as we can to use as resources among our people. Sperm whale teeth carry much prestige and the bones can be used for carving taonga that can be shared across the marae of the Wairarapa.
"We want to use this as a real learning opportunity for our people. It will be about learning how to process and work with the whale, and what cultural obligations do we have to the whale. That's from the first karakia and naming it to when we start to carve the bones, and remembering the stories of the whale from the past that remain with us."
The last whale carcass washed up on a South Wairarapa beach was an 18m-long sperm whale at Mangatoetoe in 2010.
The remains were mutilated and set alight by unknown culprits.