Heavy machinery helps bury stranded sperm whale in Hawke's Bay

For generations Māori have had a cultural affiliation to whales, believing them to be the guardians of the sea.

When a stranded sperm whale died at Mahia Beach on Saturday, local iwi Rongomaiwahine made sure that protocol was upheld.

Rongomaiwahine elder Arthur Williams explained the burial process to Newshub, saying they would take the pohora - the name of the whale - from the "marae of Tangaroa" to land.

The 16.2m elderly male sperm whale washed up on shore and later died of natural causes, with onlookers too late to help.

The whale is estimated to have between 40 to 80 years old and weighed between 35 to 40 tonnes, requiring heavy machinery to move it upshore for burial.

Karen Waihaki, a Mahia Beach holiday park worker, called the whale's death "heartbreaking".

"It's always heartbreaking to see a taonga being washed up on shores. They're quite special to us here," she told Newshub.

It's customary for local marae to receive the whale's jawbone and teeth for carving.

Historically local iwi collected whale meat, but the Department of Conservation (DoC) will perform the extraction and is strict on a bone-only policy for health and safety reasons, according to DoC ranger Jamie Quirk.

"The potential for disease and stuff like that is just something we don't know," he told Newshub. 

"If your cow died in your paddock and you didn't know what it died from, you wouldn't be eating it, and eating whale meat is something that people don't need to do these days."

But some locals, such as William Blake, don't appreciate being told what they can and can't have.

"Authorities don't give us the right to take meat which I think is wrong, but maybe one day they will see fit and have quality control over the meat and not just bury it," he said.

The once majestic creature and guardian of the water is now bound to the sand dunes of Mahia Peninsula.