A Cuvier’s beaked whale was found washed up dead on the reef of the island of Pukapuka on Tuesday morning, intriguing locals and scientists..
Island resident Kolee Tinga said: “It has been a long time since we last saw a whale thrown onto the reef, at one of the reserves of the islands called Motu Ko in the 1960s.”
Rimapeni Paani first sighted the beaked – also known as a goosebeak whale – at Utupoa, near the village of Ngake, about 5am.
A family of seven was also at the area that night, however because of the lack of visibility, they had thought that the dark shape on the reef was a large tree branch.
Shortly after the island’s Constitution Day celebrations that morning, people went out to see the fish.
“It was high tide that morning,” Tinga said, “when the fish must have washed to the centre of the reef.
“There were scratches on the fish and it is most likely that the whale was thrown onto the reef during the night time considering it was low tide at midnight.”
Whale expert Nan Hauser was amazed at the discovery of the whale, and has asked locals to take tissue samples so she can analyse them.
“It is very old and it’s sad to see such an old wise creature leave this world,” she said. “It’s amazing , they’re the most common whales that get stranded here.”
A Cuvier’s whale was washed into Muri lagoon last year, and became the subject of a big rescue project filmed by National Geographic documentary crew.
Others have washed up on the reef dead: two in Mangaia in 2014, one at Vaima’anga in 2018, and another at Muri last year. Sometimes when they are old or sick they swim into the shallows to die.
Hauser first studied the beaked whale species for three years in the Bahamas. She is renowned too for her live film footage of the whales, as well as humpbacks.
Cuvier’s beaked whales are the champion divers of whales and they hold the record for the deepest and longest dive for any mammal.
The creatures are thought by some scientists to be vulnerable to human activities like sonar, and they suffer decompression sickness, or ‘the bends’, if they are frightened or panicked and surface too quickly. “Like humans if they come up too quickly, they get the bends and die.”
The Goosebeak whales can hold their breath for about an hour and a half.
“And it’s almost as if they know – like when they are sick or dying, they actually look for land to rest on so they don’t drown,” said Hauser.
A loader moved the fish to the beach where a few pieces of meat and the tail were cut off, before the fish was buried in the sand.
Hauser has conducted necropsies on whales and hopes to receive tissue samples from the whale to analyse to sequence its DNA.