Observers stand around the 8.9 metre humpback whale, washed up on Ashburton's Wakanui beach.
© Department of Conservation
Observers stand around the 8.9 metre humpback whale, washed up on Ashburton's Wakanui beach.
A humpback whale with missing tail flukes that washed up on Ashburton's Wakanui beach may not have been able to keep up with its pod, experts say.

The 8.9-metre juvenile whale was first spotted in Kaikoura in March.

The whale attracted international media attention earlier this year when it appeared to breach, roll and manoeuvre despite not having an intact tail.

Kaikoura Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger Mike Morrissey said the whale may not have been able to keep up with its pod, although its cause of death was a mystery.

Geraldine DOC biodiversity ranger Steve Harraway said the whale could have died about a week ago before washing ashore.

"We don't know what caused the death as there were no obvious external injuries."

Morrissey said the whale appeared to be healthy and happy in March. Whales are capable of swimming well without tail flukes.

The whales did not feed around New Zealand at this time of year, rather heading north to feed in the South Pacific.

It was strange, Morrissey said, that the whale was found south of its last sighting in Kaikoura.

"Even if it couldn't keep up with the other whales, then its instinct is to carry on.

"A lot of what they learn is from the older animals," Morrissey said.

He said it was a shame, and that the distinctive whale would be missed.

"It was one of the whales that you sort of hope will come back."

The whale has been the talk of Ashburton since it was found on Friday.

"There's a lot of people coming to look at it," said Ashburton resident Karen Cudmore. "Everyone was being very respectful, which is good."

The whale could be seen floating near shore - possibly dead - for two days before it arrived on the beach.

"It was a little bit smelly yesterday, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be," Cudmore said.

She said it was interesting and educational for local children, as whales were not often spotted near Ashburton.

Local iwi were being spoken to about the recovery of any cultural items.