Dead sperm whale beaches

The sperm whale on Papamoa Beach.

Sperm whales are not often found dead on Bay of Plenty beaches, so it’s no surprise the specimen found on Papamoa Beach in mid-February attracted attention from the Department of Conservation, iwi and even thieves.

The thieves arrived first, and cut off the jawbone and made off with its teeth.

Police are currently looking for two men seen leaving the eastern end of Papamoa Beach Road in a flatbed truck.

They were contacted by members of the public who saw them leaving the scene at about 6pm on February 15, four hours after the finder contacted the DOC.

DOC has agreed protocols with local iwi on managing marine mammal strandings and deaths.

Seven iwi representatives had been notified of the whale death as the first stage of planning appropriate actions to be taken, says a police spokeswoman.

The thieves struck shortly before DOC staff and iwi representatives turned up, say senior DOC ranger Brad Angus.

“It’s a criminal act - an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act,” says Brad.

“We are actively investigating that with police.

”The whale was a young adult, which was buried nearby.

Brad’s unsure if the whale was male or female and has no idea how it died.

“It’s pretty rare for us in our patch,” says Brad.

“A mature sperm whale turned up north of Papamoa camping ground, but that was probably eight years ago.

It is not a common occurrence by any stretch.

”The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has banned international trade on sperm whale teeth.

John Howlett found the whale while heading along the beach to the Kaituna cut for a spot of fishing.

“It’s been dead for a while,” said John at the time.

“On one of the sides you can see where sharks and squid have been trying to eat it.

There are shark teeth marks in it - definitely big, shark-sized bites.

“Its tail is quite rotten and the barnacles appear to have fallen off it.

The tail is all sinewy and the outer layer’s gone.

”Sperm whales have the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth.

Females and calves remain in tropical or subtropical waters all year long, and apparently practice communal childcare.

Males migrate to higher latitudes, alone or in groups, and head back towards the equator to breed.

Driven by their tale fluke, approximately 4.

8m from tip to tip, they can cruise the oceans at around 23 miles per hour – which translates to a nautical 19kts.

They prefer deep water more than 200m, and are usually found offshore and in areas with submarine canyons.

In the Bay of Plenty, the 200m contour is just north of the Mayor Island distance.

There are deep canyons further out.

The Tauranga Canyon starts North-East of Schooner Rocks and drops down from about 850m to 1km as it turns west round the Rangitira Knoll before the seafloor drops off to the 2km deep Tauranga Trough.

Sperm Whale dives have been known to last for over one hour and can be deeper than 1000 m.

Most dives tend to last around 35 minutes, however, and extend down to 400m.


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