Karamea local says whale fossil hacked out of rock needs to come back home

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 7 November 2022
Burial in the ancient sea of Zealandia: a Toipahautea whale skeleton is slowly covered by sand 27-28 million years ago, on its path to become a fossil

Burial in the ancient sea of Zealandia: A Toipahautea whale skeleton is slowly covered by sand 27-28 million years ago, on its path to become a fossil. Photo: Reconstruction by Chris Gaskin, ©Geology Museum, University of Otago

A Karamea local says a whale fossil that is estimated to be 23 million years old and was taken from a local beach needs to come back to the community.

Police have now recovered the fossil which they said was taken from Little Wanganui Beach over Labour Weekend.

A search warrant took place on Monday morning at a property in the small town of Granity, where the fossil was found.

The beach is approximately 49 kilometres north of Granity.

Police said inquiries relating to the removal of the fossil were ongoing and no charges had been laid at this time.

But the fossil's disappearance has upset some locals who have visited the site for generations and sparked an ownership debate.

Local resident Tom Horncastle wants the fossil returned to Karamea.

"I've known about this rock for about 60 years and taken my kids and my grand-kids and lots of other kids from the school and that there over the years."

He said he was not very happy when he heard what was happening.

"I was at home when I heard that someone was down there cutting the rocks and I knew exactly what they were doing then."

Horncastle went straight down to the creek and then, with two other men, got his boat and went over to talk to the group.

"We had a discussion but they reckoned they had iwi rights and they had rights to take that rock and you know on a Sunday, we couldn't prove anything so we walked away."

The group had a rock cutting saw with them, he said.

"And then they cut right round this thing and then chiselled it out with a chisel and hammer."

Horncastle said he saw them cutting the rock but not removing the fossil, so he didn't know whether they broke it or not.

The group was prepared, he said.

"They were ready, they'd been out the Saturday and had a look and taken one on the Saturday and then come back on the Sunday and took the big one."

Not everyone knew about the fossil, but those that did liked to take their children and grandchildren to see it, he said.

"It's a hard rock to get to, like you'd only get there at low tide, you either had to boat across or walk round from, walk a 'k and a half around from the subdivision.

"It was just something that was good to have and it's been there for that many years that I don't think it should have been touched myself."

The group told him the fossil would deteriorate, Horncastle said.

Horncastle said initially he thought the fossil was thousands, rather than millions of years old.

"I said to them, 'it's been there for thousands of years now and it hasn't deteriorated, so just leave it alone' but they were quite certain, you know quite content to take it."

The fossil needed to be returned to Karamea because that was where it belonged, Horncastle said.

"It's part of our history here, you know if it goes to another museum, oh I don't think that's really fair, it should come back to Karamea, we've got a museum here, we've got an information centre, we've got lots of places we could put it and look after it.

"We've even discussed it with a big company about gluing it back into the same spot which they reckon they've got a glue that can do it but ... yeah I'm a wee bit skeptical about that, we'll have to wait and see."

Horncastle said he did not know what would happen next and he had only heard from the police today that they had it.