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Massey team to investigate death of killer whale in Auckland

Massey team to investigate death of killer whale in Auckland

A Massey University team is mobilising to investigate the death of a killer whale or orca, washed up on the west coast of Auckland at Whatipu Beach. Killer whales are considered “Nationally Critical” in New Zealand, with known threats documented including fisheries interactions and boat strike.

The animal was reported yesterday to the Department of Conservation who engaged with local iwi to seek permission to undertake a post-mortem investigation.

The team from Massey will mobilise later today to perform a necropsy in order to determine likely cause of death, and to also take biological sampling to assess diet and pollutant loads in the adult male whale.

The team is led by Coastal-Marine Research Group Director, Dr Karen Stockin.

“Photographs taken by Department of Conservation rangers late yesterday show possible blunt force trauma to the head. At this stage it’s too early to speculate what the cause of the trauma may be, although boat strike is an obvious consideration,” Dr Stockin says.

The team hope to learn more later today once the carcass has undergone examination.

Marine mammals in New Zealand are legally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1978) — anyone who accidentally kills or injures a marine mammal is required to report the incident to a fishery officer or the Department of Conservation within 48 hours.

The Marine Mammal Protection Regulations (1992) cover commercial whale and dolphin watching activities, and incidental recreational interaction. Under these regulations vessels must avoid rapid changes in both speed and direction and not exceed speeds faster than the slowest mammal within a vicinity of 300 metres. Vessels travelling at speeds over 15 knots are more likely to kill a whale or dolphin if they hit it, and can still cause severe damage if travelling over five knots (or no wake speed).

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