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The carcass of a sperm whale washed up in Wharekaho last October will need to be reburied after Cyclone Gabrielle disturbed its burial site. Photo: TCDC/FACEBOOK

Sperm whale to be reburied after storm

Work to rebury a sperm whale in Wharekaho will begin later this week, after Cyclone Gabrielle disturbed its burial site. 

The dead whale came ashore in October, and after consultation with Ngati Hei, it was buried on the beach at Wharekaho, just north of Whitianga.

At the time, DOC’s Coromandel Operations Manager Nick Kelly said the decision to bury the whale at Wharekaho had been taken after extensive discussion with local iwi Ngati Hei. Iwi representatives took the rare opportunity to carry out a cultural harvest of materials from the whale – a process often referred to as flensing.

Supported by iwi and Project Jonah, DOC staff arranged for the burial of the whale following DOC’s standard operating procedure for burial of large marine mammals. The animal was buried in a large hole and covered with two metres of sand.

However, the heavy seas whipped up by Cyclone Gabrielle have compromised the entire beach. Homes and properties have been greatly affected by inundation and the burial site was no exception – a situation DOC’s Coromandel Operations Manager Nick Kelly said his team was striving to deal with.

“We have visited the site this week and we’re formulating a plan to arrange for reburial of the whale,” Mr Kelly said.

“Our first challenge is obtaining the resources and expertise we need to carry out this work. The peninsula has been hit very hard by Cyclone Gabrielle and resources really need to be directed to where they are most urgently required.”

DOC staff in Coromandel are involved in the wider multi-agency response to the damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, and are triaging work and resources accordingly.

Mr Kelly urged residents near the whale burial site to be patient, considerate and co-operative during a time of immense stress.

“We really need our community to pull together at this time. We will get to the whale when have the resources and expertise available.”

Mr Kelly said DOC is asking people to stay away from the whale until further notice.

“The best way residents can help us is by keeping clear of the site and allowing us time to do what we need on the beach.”

Ngati Hei kaumatua Joe Davis, whose home overlooks Wharekaho, asked for respect of culture and tikanga during a difficult time.

“Ngati Hei see whales as a taonga, in this case a taonga gifted to us as a resource for cultural use for cultural reasons – it’s a really important part of our ancient Ngati Hei history,” he said.

“I’m asking our community to support us and our treaty partners the Department of Conservation during a very trying time, regardless of their own views.”