The whale was spotted on the beach on Saturday by a Glacier Country Helicopters Pilot who reported the sighting to DOC.
DOC staff discovered the jaw had been removed on Sunday morning when visiting the site with a Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio representative to establish a possible cause of death, gather scientific data and assess the whale for suitability for cultural or scientific recovery. There was no obvious cause of death.
Tim Rochford Chairman of Makaawhio says,”Iwi and DOC have well established protocols around the treatment of whale bone that are in place to protect the mana of the whale. It is extremely disappointing that someone would disrespect these protocols and our taonga.”
DOC works with iwi and whale experts to recover cultural materials from whales which are used by iwi for ceremonial purposes. It is illegal to take whalebone without a permit.
DOC Senior Ranger Guinevere Coleman says the whale had likely been dead a couple of weeks before it washed up.
“As well as being illegal and insensitive, cutting into a whale carries significant risks – whales carry disease and bacteria that can be very dangerous for people.
“We encourage anybody who has information about the jawbone removal to contact the Franz Josef DOC office or the DOC hotline: 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). The jaw is likely to be well over 1 m long and difficult to remove from the site. A boat and quad bike or a helicopter would have been required to move the jaw.”
The unauthorised removal of whale bone, contravenes the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 and can result in imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $250,000.
Due to the age of the whale carcass it is unlikely the death of this sperm whale is connected to the breach of the Fox Glacier Landfill and subsequent entry of refuse into the marine environment.