© Charlotte Squire Word of mouth spread fast, inspiring hundreds of people to make the trip out on Rototai Beach to see and touch three sperm whales that stranded on the shallow tidal flats on Saturday night
In what became a Golden Bay community event, hundreds of people turned up at Rototai beach to see and touch three dead sperm whales that had become stranded.

The whales, which ranged in length from 14 to 17 metres long were located about one kilometre out on tidal flats from the beach carpark.

Local iwi gathered to bless the three whales, which were towed by tug boat to Farewell Spit last night, once the tide was high enough to move them.

Department of Conservation biodiversity programme manager Hans Stoffregen said DOC had received a phone call from Rototai residents saying there were whales milling about at sea.

"This morning we got a call from residents saying they were stranded."

Golden Bay kaumatua John Ward-Holmes said iwi would later harvest the teeth and jawbone, which were regarded as "taonga". He said local iwi Ngati Tama, Te Ati Awa and Ngati Rarua were kaitiaki of the teeth and jawbone, and that iwi were working in partnership with DOC on the whale stranding.

While smaller pilot whales strand in Golden Bay every year, sperm whales, which are the largest of the toothed whales, aren't such a common sight in Golden Bay.

Stoffregen said the last sperm whale to be washed up in Golden Bay was "Tamati", who stranded at Puponga in 2007.

Rototai resident Gaya Brabant said she and her family noticed the whales offshore last night and called DOC. Initially she thought they were playing. She said her son saw six whales further out to sea.

She wondered if a large amount of blue bottles had played any role in attracting the whales to come into the shallow waters.

Source: The Nelson Mail