New whale strandings in NZ (Part II)

Steve O'Shea

TONMO Supporter
Staff member
Nov 19, 2002
We've just returned from another whale stranding (there have been others between the last post on this thread and this current whale, but these have been treated separately in various 'pilot whale stranding' threads).

This particular whale washed ashore, likely dead, off southernmost North Island, New Zealand, last Friday. It is a 17m bull sperm whale. We could not get to this whale until the following Monday (2 days ago), by which time its condition had deteriorated.

Although we've done equally large whales in the past, this one proved to be extremely difficult to cut into in order to recover the stomach contents. Thankfully the digger was able to assist us after we had made the initial incissions through the ventral body wall (we were exhausted by this time).

We have to purchase some proper flensing knives to do this properly, although we did go armed with an assortment of long-bladed knives and improvised cutting tools.

Warning, some might find the content of this thread rather unpleasant. We don't intend to butcher these animals in order to get the stomach contents out, but this proved to be the only way that they could be recovered in this instance.

We flew down, rented a car, got covered in blood, rented a motel unit to wash up, and then had to fly back up again that evening (the car stank at the end of this; we'll not get another rental from there; the motel room wasn't that sweet-smelling afterwards either; and the airline did ask what smelly bits we had in our assorted bags and buckets .... we'll probably never fly Air New Zealand again, rent from Budget rentals, or get to use that motel). Three of us went: Emma Beatson (who took all of the photos attached below; thanks Emma); Nik Hannam, who also dissected the sunfish for us, researches sharks (related thread in this forum), and without whose help we would not have got inside this huge whale (he is remarkable with knives); and myself.

The stomachs of this particular whale were completely empty; not even a single nematode was found therein. Seems to be a recurring theme does it not!

I'm not too sure what happened to my head in one of the latter images; I can assure you that it has not been severed by the digger, and is not buried in whale entrails!


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More ....


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It was a wet, cold and miserable day .....


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You're a stronger-stomached man than I... and I can only imagine the olfactory aspects of this work.

A criminalist who works with rotting human corpses once told me that she uses gas masks when things get particularly horrible, and nothing much else seems to help-- the little "white smear under the nose" they show in movies isn't apparently used by the LAPD and friends in real life... I don't know if the stench becomes overwhelming enough that it's worth adding gas masks to your whale kit, but I thought I'd toss out the suggestion just in case.
A two-pack a day habit certainly helps! The masks would be a hindrance, as you get covered in splatter and would constantly be smearing/wiping and washing the visor. Ta
The first photo reassures us all that even top caliber scientists use the most basic info gathering processes...

i speak of course of the i'm gonna poke it with a stick method....
Within the last few months I read about Pot Belly seahorses coming ashore in mass. Unfortunately, I am not sure where but obviously in "your" part of the globe (I am in the US). Is there any sense in looking for a commonality?
The bloody white lab coat was a nice touch. Weren't you freezing in that? Those are not particularly warm garments...
WhiteKiboko;83919 said:
The first photo reassures us all that even top caliber scientists use the most basic info gathering processes...

i speak of course of the i'm gonna poke it with a stick method....

We've just attended another stranding today, but I'm afraid probably no pictures (we were a tad busy). 'Twas a 5m male pilot whale, and we recovered a couple of squid beaks and a few fish bones from the stomachs. On the way back we stopped to do a small fur seal, and recovered a further ~ 3 squid beaks from the stomach, then had to stop again to tow back a trailer stuck on the beach (a Department of Conservation trailer); it's been a long and expensive day (used up 1/2 of a tank of gas towing a trailer through quick sand - equates to ~ $70), but a very interesting day all the same. Try going to an evening social function smelling of dead whale (they really have to love us here to tolerate this sort of smell)!!
Well at least these 2 had been eating, so maybe the strandings aren't necessarily about over fished waters. Of course the fur seal wouldn't have been a stranding....
I really can't imagine what dead whale smells like. Is it worse than dead giant squid??
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