Experts that gathered to study a huge whale that washed ashore at Hokio Beach on Friday are unlikely to ever establish a cause of death.
Department of Conservation operations manager Moana Smith-Dunlop said samples were taken from the 18.5 metre whale and taken away for testing, but due to the level of decomposition, it was unlikely the cause of death would ever be known.
Smith-Dunlop said the whale was buried by DoC staff and contractors late Friday evening using a bulldozer and an excavator, in the presence of tangata whenua Muaūpoko.
Although original reports had described the species as a sperm whale, DoC expert Anton van Helden this morning was of the opinion it was likely a Pygmy Blue Whale, judging by its size and shape.
Due to the fact the whale may have perished some time before washing up, as there had been sightings as early as Wednesday, it was emanating a very strong and noticeable odour.
Local contractors from Graeme Bagrie Contractors were given the herculean task of burying the huge whale, doing their best to adhere to tikanga that meant every effort had to be made to ensure the whale was buried as intact as possible.
Chris Bagrie said they carted two 20-tonne diggers and a large loader on the back of trucks and unloaded them at the site by 3.30pm, working swiftly to beat the tide.
They were able to work in a cordoned area, first digging a giant hole some distant into the dunes at the request of Muaūpoko iwi.
The hole was very deep, and then they painstakingly dragged the whale to her final resting place. The whale beached about 300m north of the Hokio River mouth and now rests deep in the sands dunes directly behind where it washed ashore.
Bagrie said he remembered being called to help bury a much smaller whale that had washed up on the beach 10 years ago.
He commended all those involved for their efforts as it took determination to weather the pungent smell while they worked.
"There is nothing quite like it," he said.
Muaūpoko Tribal Authority CEO Di Rump said as mana whenua of Horowhenua including Hokio Beach, representatives from local hapu gathered at the beach to observe tikanga and conduct a karakia.
"Muaūpoko Iwi as mana whenua have a very special relationship with our community of Hokio and Taitoko, Levin ... we were pleased that there is awareness of our role as kaitiaki of this area and the need to observe Muaūpoko tikanga and karakia to respect this taonga," she said.
In a cultural sense, the arrival of the whale was seen as a gift, a taonga (treasured possession) from Tangaroa (sea God).
A karakia (prayer) was performed by kaumatua Marokopa Wiremu-Matakatea before the burial work began.
The whale did attract the attention of onlookers that could drive down the beach from the Waitarere entrance further north, keen to catch a glimpse or a photograph of what was a rare event on the stretch of beach.