Northland common dolphin stranding first in Bream Bay since 2001

Beach-goers on Sunday morning were met with the sight of six dead common dolphins. Photo / Angel Addis

Six common dolphins found dead on Ruakākā Beach have been transported to Massey University for a necropsy to determine their cause of death.

DoC acting operations manager for Whangārei Dave Smith said they contacted dolphin expert Professor Karen Stockin before the mammals were transported to Massey University.

It is yet unknown what led to their stranding, but Smith said such events could occur for a number of reasons, including sickness, navigational error, geographical features, extreme weather, a rapidly falling tide, or being chased by a predator. More than one factor might contribute to a stranding, he said.

“Strandings are natural and have been occurring for millennia. Common dolphins are the most abundant dolphin in New Zealand and are classified as ‘not threatened’ in the NZ threat classification system. Given this relatively large population, we would expect strandings to occur relatively frequently.”


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It was the first time a common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) stranding had taken place in the Bream Bay area since 2001. DoC said on average, the number of common strandings in Northland over the 1999-2019 period was 4.8 per year.

The Advocate understands Project Jonah attended the scene, and hapū representatives of Patukarakeke were taking the lead on-site.

A couple around 7.30am on Sunday may have encountered a dolphin as part of the same pod, as they found one beached at Little Munro Bay, located almost directly opposite Ruakākā.

Mikhail Bawayan said he and his fiance, Zipporah Jones, were on a rock-fishing trip when they came across the dolphin lying in a pool of blood. The distressed mammal went straight inland multiple times before it eventually started swimming toward the deeper area.


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He said he had seen dolphins before, but none that looked like that, nor surrounded by blood. He described it as a “freaky sight”.

It’s unknown whether the dolphin was part of the pod that was found washed up on the opposite shoreline at Ruakākā later that morning.

The Advocate understands some fishermen initially stumbled upon the six aquatic mammals, who were deceased before help could come. It’s believed a mixture of low cloud and dense fog prevented anyone from seeing them earlier.

You can find more information about strandings at this link.

Whale or dolphin strandings can be reported to the DoC emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or 0800 4 WHALE (Project Jonah).

Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie recently graduated from Massey University and has a special interest in the environment and investigative reporting.

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