Sperm whale given Māori blessing after dying on Christchurch beach

12:56 pm on 6 November 2023
A sperm whale stranded on a Christchurch beach

A sperm whale stranded on a Christchurch beach died overnight on Saturday. Photo: Katie Oliver / Project Jonah

Mana whenua said it has been a sad weekend burying a stranded sperm whale on Christchurch's New Brighton beach.

The tohora (whale), became stranded on the ocean side of a sand bank on Saturday evening, and died overnight.

Makarini Rupene, of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, said some hapū members, along with Department of Conservation (DOC), emergency services and a whale conservation group, Project Jonah, spent the night at the beach.

"Unfortunately, because of the time and the tides that happened, we couldn't be out there in the big swell and in the dark with a massive, beautiful mammal like that - weighing in at around a tonne and approximately 60m long," he said.

"So there was a lot of karakia from our whānau and others as well, because this has really impacted on the whole community and everyone that was there."

The whale was given the name Te Koha, meaning the gift, Rupene said, and was laid to rest with mana.

Te Koha was blessed at Te Ata Hapara, the awakening or the moment before the sun rises, shortly after dying.

"Being an ancestral relationship, we wanted to honour that and also what comes with that is the learnings and the gift of, for us as people, what are we doing in our world at that time of Te Ata Hapara, of the awakening," he said.

"It's time for us to realise that things like this are going to keep happening. We need to look at how we're doing things today so we know how we can be better off tomorrow and realise the impacts we're having on our natural world."

Many of the hapū gathered on the beach when it was brought to shore at low tide on Sunday afternoon and buried in a deep grave.

Both the whale's final resting and public safety were considered when choosing and digging the grave site, said DOC's Christchurch biodiversity supervisor Craig Alexander.

"It has a large covering of sand and should be safe for years to come," he said.

It's one of five sperm whales that had died over the past month across the motu, with three stranding in Northland and one in Mahia.

"It's concerning and we're working with scientists from universities across the country. There was a sample taken [from the whale] for toxicology testing so they can find out more about any common circumstances between these whales and why [the strandings] are happening," Alexander said.

Rupene and Project Jonah thanked everyone involved for their help and support.

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