The last thing surfers and beachgoers expect to find when heading down onto the sand is a “mountain range coming out of the sea” – a beached whale.
On Tuesday, a New Zealand pygmy blue whale washed up on Hokio Beach west of Levin and was found dead.
It was lying on its side in the breakers, but the huge mammal could be seen from down the beach. The whale’s tail fin was half buried in the sand, but it was still higher than the heads of anyone who stood next to it.
Muaūpoko spokesman Dean Wilson said the whale was a taonga and would be buried in the dunes along the beach.
Here’s some of the biggest whale strandings in NZ in recent years:
About 215 pilot whales died after becoming stranded on a beach in the remote Chatham Islands in late October 2022.
Due to the conditions on the island, the surviving whales had to be euthanised, a DOC spokesperson said.
“We do not actively refloat whales on the Chatham Islands due to the risk of shark attack to both humans and the whales themselves.”
DOC said such an event was not uncommon on the Chatham Islands – it is the site of the world’s largest recorded stranding event, an estimated 1000 pilot whales which stranded in 1918.
The whales were left to decompose naturally.
Thirty-three stranded pilot whales died after almost 50 were found stranded in the Parengarenga Harbour, in the Far North, at the end of 2021.
A DOC spokeswoman said by the time teams arrived, 14 of the whales were already dead, and an attempt to re-float the surviving whales was made at high tide.
She said responders measured the dead whales and samples were taken from them.
“Later that day Project Jonah were phoned by a boatie who said the whales had returned to the harbour and 12 were bleeding after being attacked by sharks.
Over half, around 33, of the whales died.
Eleven sperm whales washed ashore, and died, on a South Taranaki beach within the space of four days in 2018.
The bloated, black 12-14m long carcasses of the mammals were spread 5km along Kaupokonui Beach, north of Manaia.
It appeared the three mammals may have been dead before they washed ashore, DOC biodiversity supervisor Jared Coombes said at the time.
Security had increased around the beach entrances after one carcass was mutilated by thieves overnight using an axe to prise four teeth from the upper jaw.
Around 416 pilot whales were stranded at Farewell Spit, at the top of the South Island, in 2017.
Between 250-300 were already dead when the whales were discovered, according to DOC.
A re-float attempt of over 100 whales resulted in 50 being able to swim out into the bay, but the remaining 80-90 were restranded.
“Over 500 volunteers turned out to assist with the rescue effort.”