29 Jul 2022

Public warned to keep away from humpback whale carcass on Otago beach

4:52 pm on 29 July 2022

People should stay clear of a humpback whale carcass which has washed up on a remote beach north of Dunedin, the Department of Conservation says.

A dead humpback whale washed up on a beach at Omimi, Otago.

A dead humpback whale washed up on a beach at Omimi, Otago. Photo: Department of Conservation

The 9.7-metre long juvenile humpback was first seen floating off the coast of Warrington a fortnight ago.

A week ago it washed up on a beach at Omimi.

Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jim Fyfe said it would likely remain beached while it decomposed.

"Decomposing whales can be a health risk, as they are mammals and carry bacteria and diseases which can be passed on to people."

People should stay away from the whale to respect the privacy of neighbouring landowners and because of the health risks it posed, he said.

The most direct access to the beach crosses private property and the landowners were not able to accommodate people wanting access to see the whale.

The whale was being left to decompose because the site was difficult to access by land or water, which meant it was impractical to remove or bury the carcass.

Surfers and swimmers should be aware the carcass also increased the risk of shark encounters in the wider area, such as at Warrington Beach and nearby surf breaks.

"While we have not seen any evidence of increased shark activity in the area, research has shown that sharks may remain near beached whale carcasses in search of food," Fyfe said.

The department and Kati Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, the local rūnaka, would monitor the decomposition of the whale, which could take several months.

Department staff would be meeting with the Warrington Surf Life Saving Club to discuss the risks in the lead up to summer.

A DNA sample was taken from the whale and the cause of death was not known, Fyfe said.

Humpback whales could be found off the Otago coast between May and July as they migrate north away from the cold Antarctic waters. However, it was unusual for them to wash up.