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Jawbone of sperm whale washed up in New Zealand stolenExBulletin

Jawbone of sperm whale washed up in New Zealand stolenExBulletin


New Zealand Department of Conservation staff assess the remains of a dead sperm whale.

Department of Conservation (NZ)

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Department of Conservation (NZ)

New Zealand Department of Conservation staff assess the remains of a dead sperm whale.

Department of Conservation (NZ)

The jawbone of a nearly 50-foot sperm whale that washed ashore on Oreti Beach in New Zealand's southernmost region has been hacked off with a chainsaw and stolen, according to New Zealand Department of Conservation.

In a DOC press release on Monday, officials noted that the act is illegal under the country's Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1978. Violators can face fines of up to about US$150,000.

“Someone came along with a chainsaw and took the jaw,” said DOC Senior Ranger Rosalind Cole.

Because of the markings on the remaining whale bones and the tire tracks leading to the carcass, the DOC believes that humans removed the jawbone rather than cleaning the animals.

While the act is illegal, it is also considered disrespectful to iwi, a social unit of the indigenous Mori people on the island nation. Whale bones are considered precious treasures, also known as taonga, in Mori culture.

Earlier this year, indigenous leaders from New Zealand, along with leaders from Tahiti, Tonga and the Cook Islands, signed a treaty giving whales legal status. Mori conservationist Mere Takoko told NPR that the treaty lays the groundwork for further legislation to protect the whales, or as the Mori call them, the sacred ancestors of indigenous Polynesians.

Kai Rongo Muriel Johnstone, a Mori elder, said the rnaka, or tribal council, is “extremely upset” that the dead whale on Oreti Beach was not “given due respect” according to Mori traditions and customs.

“We recognize and treat whales as the Rangatira (Chiefs) of the sea and as such deserve proper protocols spoken over them. This includes a farewell speech and appropriate karakia [prayers]”It is clear that someone knows the value of these taonga and has deliberately removed and stolen the jawbone,” Johnstone said.

Other stolen whale jaws

This is not the first time a beached whale's jawbone has been stolen from a beach in New Zealand. In April 2019, the DOC published a press release in relation to the illegal removal of a jawbone from a sperm whale washed up on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island.

“Iwi and DOC have well-established protocols around the handling of whale bones that are in place to protect mana. [power] of the whale,” said Tim Rochford, Makaawhio's chairman at the time. “It is extremely disappointing that someone would not respect these protocols and our taonga.”

The DOC press release from Monday also said a similar incident occurred in 2015 when another sperm whale washed ashore on the beach of Oreti and someone removed the jaw.

IN 2015 press release, DOC officials noted that it is not unusual for whales to beach on South Island beaches. “A range of factors can cause these incidents and, depending on the condition of the carcass, it is often difficult to determine the cause of death,” Juzah Zammit-Ross, a DOC biodiversity ranger, said at the time.




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