"A disrespectful act of desecration."
That is how an iwi representative describes the actions of two men who used chainsaws to hack the lower jaw off a dead whale on Papamoa Beach.
The decomposing animal, believed to be a sperm whale, was found washed up at the far eastern end of Papamoa Beach on Thursday afternoon by local fishers.
Ngati Ranginui representative Carlton Bidois said the whale was attacked while iwi representatives were meeting with Department of Conservation staff to make a plan, which would have included security.
"Before we could even get to it two guys cut the jaw off with chainsaws," Bidois said.
Police were called about 5.50pm. A spokeswoman said they went to Taylor's Reserve and saw two men leaving the beach in a flatbed truck, but had no further lines of enquiry.
Bidois, an iwi liaison to the department, said he did not have anything against someone claiming the right to culturally harvest the whale, but this was not the way to do it.
Our tipuna never used chainsaws to hack whales to pieces.
"It's disgusting. It is embarrassing for me as Maori that happened to the whale. It was disrespectful to the whale and to the members of the public who were there guarding it."
There were established cultural traditions that should have been followed, he said.
"Our tipuna never used chainsaws to hack whales to pieces."
Bidois said the jaw was the most valuable bone in the whale, both in terms of cultural and spiritual significance - and potential for financial gain.
"A carved whale's tooth can go for up to $3000 a piece. There were a significant number of big teeth on that whale."
Mount Maunganui carver and marine mammal advocate Nathan Pettigrew said the "great honour" of carving a whale's tooth was sullied by "frustrating" incidents like this.
"There is no mana in that material being taken in that way. It really devalues a beautiful, majestic creature ... and the art of carving."
Police said removing a whale's jawbone was an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, while DoC spokeswoman Jessyca Bernard said it was an offence under the Wildlife Act.
"What should have been an enriching cultural experience of tikanga and karakia was ruined by this selfish and criminal act," Bernard said.
Both Bernard and Bidois agreed there were lessons to be learned from the incident, and from the attempted theft of teeth from an orca that died after stranding in Tauranga in December.
The sperm whale was buried near where it came ashore on Papamoa Beach at low tide yesterday afternoon.
What to do if you find a dead whale
• Call the Department of Conservation as soon as possible: Stranding emergency hotline: 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)
• Hold off posting to social media, which might tip off undesirables.
Source: Jessyca Bernard, Department of Conservation