Cat Peters, DoC marine mammal ranger and Coline Peters, French veterinary student, measure the “super rare” pygmy right whale. PHOTO / PIERRE DE GRAAF
The two whales found dead on a Northland beach today are so rare that their species has only been seen at sea 30 times.
Residents of Taupō Bay informed the Conservation Department this morning after finding the whales, a female about 5m long and a small one measuring 2m. They were about 500 m apart with the adult in the middle of the bay and the little one at the southern end.
Marine mammals, considered pygmy right whales, attracted a constant stream of curious locals.
Among them were Steve Herk, a man from Taupō Bay, and his daughters Prairie, 15, and Aurora, 13, who had planned to collect tuatua but found a whale instead. Prairie said she was surprised and saddened by their discovery.
She had seen a lot of dolphins in the bay and a few sea turtles, but this was her first whale. She would then go home to look for it and try to determine what species it was.
DoC ranger Cat Peters, of Russell, said pygmy right whales were “super rare” and had only been seen at sea about 30 times before.
They were mainly found in Antarctic waters – Taupō Bay was near the northern limit of their range – and they were a pelagic or migratory species.
“Beyond that, we know little,” she said.
The cause of their death was not known and they showed no obvious signs of trauma. The adult’s baleen was broken, but this could have happened when he ran aground.
Both had circular bite marks left by cookie-cutter sharks, but these weren’t fatal, Peters said.
Morgan Moses, of the local hapū Ngāti Rua, said it was likely the whales would be transported by tide overnight. If they were still on the beach tomorrow, they would be buried in the dunes inland.
Their bones could be used as taonga and as a learning opportunity for young people in the future, he said.
Peters was accompanied by a marine mammal specialist from the Tangaroa Research Institute based in Bay of Islands and two French interns.
The discovery of rare pygmy right whales hasn’t been the only unusual sighting of marine mammals in Northland in recent days.
On Friday, members of the Houhora Big Game and Sports Fishing Club spotted a white humpback whale breaching off Mount Camel, about 50 km north of Kaitaia, and managed to capture the show on a phone. portable.
The whale is believed to be an individual called Migaloo that was seen a few days earlier in the Bay of Plenty and is likely en route to the Queensland coast.
The whiteness of Migaloo is so unusual that the whale has its own Instagram feed and a Facebook page with over 16,000 likes.
Peters said an unusually high number of whale sightings this year was due to warmer sea temperatures and easterly winds bringing whale food closer to shore.
The warmer-than-average sea temperatures also triggered the penguin deaths that occurred earlier this year.