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Image 1 for A colossal 16-foot great white decapitates and eats a stranded pygmy sperm whale in front of rescuers in NZ

Whale strandings are common along Māhia Beach, with sick whales often stranding on shore.

Image 2 for A colossal 16-foot great white decapitates and eats a stranded pygmy sperm whale in front of rescuers in NZ

Kairakau Beach in Hawke's Bay. Pic: Michael Farr

Image 3 for A colossal 16-foot great white decapitates and eats a stranded pygmy sperm whale in front of rescuers in NZ

Pygmy sperm whale, mother and calf. Photo from the Marine Sanctuary Foundation

A colossal 16-foot great white decapitates and eats a stranded pygmy sperm whale in front of rescuers in NZ

11 April 24


The picturesque shores of northern Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula recently became the stage for a thrilling, albeit tragic, encounter. Warning, this is a pretty distressing story – as reported by Hawke’s Bay Today out of NZ:

Māhia: Huge shark kills and eats whale that rescuers had been trying to refloat, police warn beachgoers to be wary

A stranded mother pygmy sperm whale was killed and devoured by a monster great white shark while a person who had been trying to refloat the whale fled for their life to the beach.

Witnesses told police the whale and its calf had made several attempts to strand themselves between Māhia Beach and Opoutama in on the Māhia Peninsula in northern Hawke’s Bay on Sunday.

Māhia sole charge police officer Chad Prentice said one person was in the water attempting to save the mother again when the attack occurred, killing the whale “instantly”.

Prentice said a witness told him the shark was more than 5m long and had gone for the head of the whale.

“When the mother pygmy whale, which is about 3m long was being refloated, in belly button deep water, a large shark - probably a great white - has come along and hit the whale, and then taken the carcass out to sea and it’s gone.”

He said one person was in the water and miraculously uninjured.

“I am told when the shark hit the whale the first time it was like lighting, and it came out of the water and took its whole head off.

“The water was red and about 30 seconds later the shark came back and hit the whole thing and took it out to sea - there is not even an ounce of remains left.”

He said the mother whale was described as being 3m long. Prentice said: “there are not many sharks that can do that”.

He said there had been no sightings of the shark since the incident but warned anyone going into the water to take extreme care.

Kaitiaki for Ruawharo Marae Aaron Raureti didn’t witness the attack, but helped after the mother’s calf was euthanised and frozen.

He said strandings had become “more than frequent” and said warmer sea temperatures played a role.

“The most common thing with the recent strandings is with the water temperature. It is so high at the moment, and we have had rare species that aren’t even found in this part of the world.”

He said since October last year a sperm whale, a pod of 40 false killer whales, a striped dolphin and the pygmy sperm whales had become stranded in Māhia.

Raureti said when whales strand, people need to stay out of the water, and in this case follow a rāhui, which had been extended to March after the January stranding.

“It is important, as we monitor the decomposition process. We have dragged the ones that we could out of the water, out of the tidal zone, and we are letting nature take its course.”

He said that the heads of the false killer whales were taken for customary purposes, while other parts were taken for scientific study.

“The science stuff is in the testing of the blubber. It’s also in the tongue to test for diseases, and that tells us what has been in their diet for the last six months, or what’s not been in their diet for the last six months.”

Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover was aware that Māhia was a hotspot for whale strandings and said it was normal behaviour for sharks to prey on sick animals.

“Sharks are opportunistic predators, and whales can be predated on by sharks. Pygmy sperm whales are very small and under 4m long.”

He said that underlying reasons can bring whales ashore, and the geographical formation of Māhia and historical migration knowledge may have played a role.

“Māhia used to be an island, and there was a channel that passed through from the shallow bay to the south, and over time that has silted up.”

He also said that less than 20km offshore the ocean is more than 1000m deep, and where it becomes shallow provides a perfect environment for plankton.

Sick whales would often strand themselves as a way of taking their last breaths without the effort that is required to resurface from the water.

He said the best practice in a stranding was to call the Department of Conservation or Project Jonah to get advice on how to help the animals.

 - AUTHOR: MICHAELA GOWER

 - SOURCE: HAWKES BAY TODAY

 ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE



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