New whale strandings in NZ (part IA)

Steve O'Shea

TONMO Supporter
Staff member
Nov 19, 2002
Last year we had 562 cetaceans strand in New Zealand beaches, in 92 separate stranding events (if my memory serves me correctly). This year is proving 'busy' as well!

We have attended one stranding of a 7m long female sperm whale today, the smallest I have ever attended, and one of the hardest to locate the stomach and retrieve its contents (it had tumbled around in the surf, post-mortem before stranding I am sure, covered in shark bites and with serious lessions to the flukes as a consequence of entanglement in fishing gear (very sad!); it's stomach(s) were actually very close (positionally) to the anus ... the wrong end of the animal to locate them, but the viscera was quite jumbled as a consequence of stranding). I'll post pictures in a couple of days, because we have another stranding to attend to tomorrow, this one a beaked whale, possibly Mesoplodon sp. I noted something on this whale that I have not seen before on any stranded sperm whale, although they are recorded from this animal. These bizarre crustaceans are referred to as 'whale lice' (I had never seen them before; they encrusted this poor animal); good old Wikipedia provides a nice pic of these evil beasts here. I have collected samples, but would be very interested to hear from anyone who has seen these before, who might be interested in researching these samples, or who might have samples from other species of whale (particularly baleen whales). I'll get pics of ours online, in addition to pics of the two whales that we've attended to this week (if the 2nd is Mesoplodon it will be the 4th stomach sample from NZ waters to be archived .... and we have the others) as soon as I can.

These are terribly busy times; terrible time for whales to strand, but an opportunity that we cannot miss. Two theses are due to be submitted in the immediate future: one on sperm whale diet (Felipe) and pygmy sperm whale diet (Emma); I would love additional researchers to look at the diet of lesser-known whales, and to follow in Felipe and Emma's footsteps!
I'll have to post these in series of posts. We're out in some rather wild and rugged countryside here, on the back on 4 x 4 motorcycles, en route to the first stranding several days ago. Welcome to wonderful New Zealand. In the 3rd shot you can probably just make out a small whale next to the quad bike way ahead.


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When we got there we found this terribly small 7 metre female sperm whale; this was the smallest that I had attended to date.


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Not for the faint hearted; the fishing gear that was tangled around the fluke had been removed a day earlier, but the pain this animal must have been in is apparent!


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And I had never seen anything like this before; whale lice


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.... and there's more!


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Incredible images, though a lot sad.

You hear about all of the problems with fishing nets, but when you see something like that up close and unaltered it's shocking. :cry:

As for the lice; some of those look bigger than my tarantulas! Were they still alive?
Afraid the lice weren't alive by the time we got there.

This is a pic of yesterday's whale, a Gray's Beaked Whale. The stomach of this one was completely empty; a near 400km return trip for us to get to this one, on some really rugged coast (that I'd never been to myself ... and that's saying something).

We have additional pics that we can post shortly, but I'm due in the field in a few minutes so have to dart.


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