Thieves face $250,000 in fines after chainsaw used to cut valuable part from beached whale

An investigation is under way after the discovery was made on a beach in New Zealand's far south coast.

Two DOC workers in heavy coats look at the dead sperm whale on Oreti Beach.
Thieves have used a chainsaw to cut the jaw off a 15-metre-long sperm whale. Source: DOC

Brazen thieves face fines of almost a quarter of a million dollars after taking a sacred body part from a beached whale washed up on a remote beach.

Power tools are believed to have been used to cut a massive jaw from the 15-metre-long sperm whale on the New Zealand beach. The bone is a highly prized item, referred to by the local Maori as a taonga and used in traditional carving.

“Someone has come along with a chainsaw and taken the jawbone,” Department of Conservation ranger Rosalind Cole said of the bone that was taken last week from Oreti Beach on the country's far south coast.

Pictures supplied to Yahoo show the massive creature washed up on the rugged landscape, near chilly Invercargill where the temperature can drop to -9 degrees. Rangers in heavy coats can be seen examining the rotting animal, and a large hole can be seen on its underside where it’s believed the chainsaw was used to mutilate it.

Surprisingly it’s not the first time a whale jawbone has been stolen from the beach. In 2015 thieves pounced when another sperm whale washed ashore.

Related: Whale discovery on beach could be worth fortune

The dead whale on Oreti Beach. A measuring tape lies next to it. Two people in orange coats can be seen in the background.
Anyone with information about the theft is urged to contact authorities. Source: DOC

Maori elder and healer Muriel Johnstone said the rūnaka or tribal council is “extremely upset” that traditional customs could not be performed over the whale’s body. She believes someone who knew the value of the jaw opportunistically stole it.

“We know and treat whales as Rangatira (Chiefs) of the sea and as such deserve appropriate protocols said over them. This includes a farewell address and appropriate karakia,” she said.

“This then allows us to treat the whale as a gift from the sea and use its resources. These include the bone, teeth and oils that we use, as did our ancestors.”

Those responsible for the act face fines of NZ $250,000 ($228,000). Anyone with information is urged to contact DOC.

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