A humpback whale carcass washed up on Aitutaki reef was discovered early last week by Air Rarotonga pilots without its head and tail. Photo by Charlotte Piho - 21102724
A whale carcass that was discovered over a month ago on Aitutaki’s reef just above Honeymoon island is being removed by the Ministry of Marine Resources.
The head of the
Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), Pamela Maru, said the decaying whale was being removed because it could
have adverse effects on the immediate and surrounding ecosystem.
coral smothering over an extended period, along with the release of decaying biological
material such as oil, may result in coral mortality,” Maru said.
“It is also located
in the vicinity where MMR stocks pa’ua (giant clams).”
Maru said the
removal was being carried out as a precautionary measure.
She said the whale
also had “a very strong odour” which was another reason why it was being
The whale is being
removed in sections by MMR staff and two members of the public, who are using
rope to slowly tow the whale out to sea.
Maru said the job
should be completed before the end of this week.
In a Facebook post,
MMR said Aitutaki’s marine research station manager, Richard Story, towed a
portion of the whale out to sea a week ago, releasing it 2km offshore.
Prayers were made
for the whale prior to the beginning of the removal process and also when the
portion of the whale was released in the ocean. The removal of the section took
three and a half hours.
On October 19, Air Rarotonga flew photographer
Charlotte Piho to Aitutaki to examine the carcass.
Piho found the carcass was missing the head and
tail, which she said was unusual because of the strength of the whale.
Piho said she hoped the
disengaged head and tail was not a result of human interference and whale
Marine biologist, Ticiana Fettermann, who viewed Piho’s photos said although it
was unusual for the tail and head to be missing, the whale was in an advanced
stage of decomposition.
washed up in the reef was dead for a while, days even weeks (old),” Fettermann said.
She said whale deaths were not an uncommon incident
with large vessels, entanglement in fishing gear, and noise pollution are the
some of the main threats that whales face today.”
MMR said scientists were
unable to determine the species of
whale and the cause of death because the whale had been deceased for a
considerable amount of time before it was found.
“It is not uncommon for deceased whales to wash
ashore in the Cook Islands or to find live whales stranded or beached,” MMR’s
Facebook post said.
“The subpopulation of humpback whales that visit the
Cook Islands every year are considered to be ‘not at risk’ by scientists, and
significant conservation efforts have allowed their populations to rebound
after being nearly extinct.”
Fettermann said whales provide a huge amount
of food and nutrients to the environment.
are an important part of the ecosystem and it becomes a feast of food source for big predators, like
sharks, to small sea creatures.
whales are the most food-rich particles in the ocean, within organic carbon,
lipids and proteins.”