A family watch a dying whale, after it was stranded on Mahia Beach on Saturday morning.
© Roger Foley
A family watch a dying whale, after it was stranded on Mahia Beach on Saturday morning.
A beached whale has died, surrounded by a sombre crowd, after being stranded at a Hawke's Bay beach.

Onlookers could do nothing but watch as the whale lay in the shallows of Mahia Beach on Saturday morning.

Levin man Roger Foley, who was staying at the motorhome camp across the road from the beach with his wife, spotted the whale at 7am.

The 18-metre sperm whale had been left "fairly high" up the beach as the tide went out.

Foley said about 30 people, including families and children, had alread quietly gathered around the animal.

"It was a sombre sight, people weren't saying much. It's quite sad to see such a beautiful beast in that situation.


"It was probably already dead. The tail was moving, but I think that was just the waves."

Foley thought bad weather might have driven the animal onto the beach, and it was lucky only one whale had been stranded.

It had been a stormy night, with "very heavy seas" and high winds, he said

Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jamie Quirk said it was unclear why the whale ended up on the beach, but it appeared to have died of old age.

"It was an elderly looking animal, in a pretty poor condition and was kind of skinny for its size."

The whale was likely old and had beached itself to die, according to the Department of Conservation.
© Roger Foley
The whale was likely old and had beached itself to die, according to the Department of Conservation.
Conservation staff plan to move the corpse further up the beach, where local iwi would remove the whale's jaw and teeth for cultural purposes.

It would then be buried in the sand dunes. The whole process will be done within the next day or two, depending on tides, Quirk said.

"Strandings are common place at [Mahia Beach], but not for the larger toothed-whales. It's more often the smaller toothed or beaked whales."

There were a number of reasons behind the beachings, including the shape of the beach, the way currents and tides move into Mahia from across the bay, and the close proximity of the Hikurangi Trench.

The trench is an area of very deep water running along the East Coast. It's a perfect feeding ground for whales, and draws them in relatively close to the shore, Quirk said.