Friday, October 23, 2009
A Whale of a Tale
On Wednesday, I was sitting in a cafe when I heard there had been a whale stranding on Southshore Beach, near New Brighton, Christchurch. I've seen whales in the ocean before but never up close, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse at one of these magnificent ocean creatures. I grabbed my camera and off I went. Unfortunately, the whale - a five-metre lactating female Cuvier's beaked whale - died just as I arrived but for all the sadness of that, there was still a beauty in the moment - her silky smooth grey skin, the yellow and white lichen-like speckles, her upright tail fin. Like most people there, I stood there will a mix of sadness and awe.
Despite the best efforts of those who had arrived early, while the whale was still struggling on the outgoing tide, it seemed inevitable that she would die. Department of Conservation representatives present said she may have already been ill, or perhaps hit by a boat and she may have come ashore to die. As is normal practice in the case of any whale stranding on the New Zealand coastline, the local Maori iwi (tribe), in this case Ngai Tahu, had been informed of the whale's death. They are then allowed to take the dead whale's jaw bone to use for carving. The body of the whale would then studied to determine a cause of death and then buried. Anyone who has watched the multi-awardwinning New Zealand movie "Whale Rider," will know that whales have a special place in Maori mythology. The North Island's East Coast iwi have often incorporated the whale into their carvings - an acknowledgement to the ancestral story of Uenuku and his sons Paikea and Ruatapu. Paikea is said to have survived a disaster at sea in which many others drowned, by calling to the gods and being saved by a whale - his tipuna (ancestors). He rode the whale to New Zealand and settled with the people at Whangara on the East Coast. The two large tribes, Ngati Porou (Eastland) and the South Island's Ngai Tahu both claim a strong ancestral links back to Paikea. www.ngatiporou.com www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz