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Mahia stranding ‘quite remarkable’

A rare southern right whale dolphin stranded at Mahia beach left locals in wonderment.

This rare dolphin shares its name with the southern right whale because both lack a dorsal fin.

Mahia Department of Conservation ranger Helen Jonas said “these unique dolphins are rarely seen at sea so to find one in Mahia is quite remarkable.”

This species seems to live further offshore in cooler waters.

New Zealand sightings tend to be off the south eastern coast. They can also be found off southern Australia.

DoC marine technical adviser Hannah Hendriks said this species had not been well surveyed and they had no population estimates, however, this is anecdotal evidence of sightings decreasing around Kaikoura.

They are ranked as data deficient in the New Zealand Threat Classification System.

“For this rare dolphin to be found alone, where it usually travels in large pods, is concerning and can indicate the individual was unwell,” said Ms Hendriks.

The dolphin was a male measuring 1.88 metres long, which suggested it may have been a juvenile, as they can grow to 2.3 metres.

Unfortunately, it was in poor condition and was euthanised due to its injuries.

Rongomaiwahine Iwi kaumatua Arthur Williams blessed the dolphin.

To acknowledge the rare taonga he named it Te Tama-poto-taitonga puru Whakawhitinga.

Te tama-poto translates to “the short male”; taitonga puru “of a southern whale dolphin male”; and Whakawhitinga is the iwi name for the area where the dolphin stranded and is resting.

There have been southern right whale dolphin strandings in the Tasman region and as far as Northland, but most of these occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

The largest stranding was 77 of the whales in 1988 on the Chatham Islands.

Rare sight: This southern right whale dolphin which stranded at Mahia Beach has been described as a unique breed rarely seen at sea. Sadly the dolphin was in such poor health it was euthanised. Arthur Williams (inset) blessed the taonga. Pictures supplied
Arthur Williams blessing the stranded dolphin, which had to be euthanised.