The beached beaked whale that was found washed up on Muri Beach on Wednesday. MMR/21071650
The carcass of a dead beaked whale was found on Muri Beach last week, and researchers say it most likely died from natural causes. Alana Musselle reports.
The dead whale was found washed up in the intertidal
area of the seaweed aspect of motu Koromiri. After the sighting, the Ministry
of Marine Resources (MMR) was informed and staff went to the site to
investigate, along with shark researcher Jess Cramp to gather measurements and
other biological information.
They identified the whale as a sub-adult beaked whale,
but due to deterioration and missing portions of its body, this was not able to
be fully confirmed. The whale had numerous shark bites on its body which likely
Ministry of Marine Resources’ scientist Kirby Morejohn
said the whale most likely died while at sea, and washed up into the lagoon after
it had been nibbled on by sharks.
Morejohn shared how some biologists and scientists
think that the use of man-made sonar from ships and submarines may interfere
with a whale’s brain waves causing the whale to lose its sense of direction,
resulting in it beaching itself.
There is also the factor of polluted oceans due to
human activity which can cause whales and other sea animals to become sick or
poisoned from daily waste that has been poured into the ocean as well as
However, Morejohn shared that due to the remoteness of
the Cook Islands and the lack of heavy human activity, most whale beachings
that occur have happened due to natural causes where the whale simply died and
drifted into the lagoon.
“It occurs, but it occurs infrequently.”
He shared an example of one of the most recent whale
beachings in Manuae where some of the team at MMR visited earlier this month.
A beached humpback whale which they had already seen
on a separate trip in March was still decomposing in the area. “Even on
uninhabited islands with very low impact from humans, whales still wash up,” he
Beaked whales are periodically observed in Cook
Islands’ waters and have been stranded on local beaches in the past.
One of the country’s local species, the Cuvier’s
beaked whale, is the deepest diving mammal. They can reach depths up to 3
kilometres and hold their breath for nearly four hours.
To put these numbers into perspective, the humpback
whale depth record is 616 metres and they can hold their breath up to an hour.
Because beaked whales spend such little time on the
surface, they’re difficult for biologists to study and therefore one of the
ocean’s more mysterious citizens of the deep.
After being examined and investigated by the team at
MMR, the whale was left to take its natural decomposing process without any
tampering from humans.