A cautonary tale for whales – they could live for ever, but only if they let Maori rip out their jaws

Dunno if the whale that has been beached near Invercargill is in a position to take Alf’s advice.

But the advice is to get the hell out of there and head back to sea.

Otherwise – once the whale is dead – DOC will hand it over to local Maori, and the local Maori will be ripping out its jawbone.

And the local Maori will earnestly tell the rest of us how they are being very respectful to the whale and how, actually, if they can rip out its jawbone, it will live on forever as a bit of carving.

The whale’s plight is reported here.

Volunteers spent hours trying to get the bugger back into the ocean but it became re-stranded this afternoon.

The 8m beaked whale was first found stranded on Omaui Beach, between Invercargill and Bluff in Southland, late last night.

Initial efforts to re-float the mammal were unsuccessful, but this morning Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and about 20 local volunteers managed to get it back into the water on the high tide.

“They had placed sandbags on one side of the whale to stop it being pushed up the beach and then they held it as well as they could in place … and then the whale did move slowly off the beach,” said Daren Grover, general manager for marine mammal welfare charity Project Jonah.

The Herald report mentions several other beaked whales being seen out in the water “waiting for their friend”.

How the reporter would know the beached whale is a friend of the other whales is a good question.

We are also told a decicion has yet to be made on whether to try again to re-float the whale “or whether to let nature take its course”.

Alas, if the example set by DOC in Kapiti gives us a clue, nature will not be allowed to take its course.

A whale was beached there the other day.

A bunch of Maori butchers moved in and were left “up to their knees” in blood after whacking out the beast’s jaw.

The story is told here.

Grief and anger erupted among the 300 onlookers as Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa and Te Ati Awa iwi members took three hours on Wednesday evening to remove the jaw of the 15-metre male sperm whale.

It had washed up on Paraparaumu Beach that morning.

Yesterday, DOC staff transported the body to Queen Elizabeth Park and buried it.

Or rather, they buried what was left of the whale after the butchers had done their thing, which we are led to believe was cultural, although it sounds like a disagreeably uncultured practice to Alf and his mates here in the Eketahuna Club.

Local whale-bone carver Owen Mapp said children were in tears and some of the crowd became angry about the whale being butchered.

One man became aggressive, telling officials they had no right to carve up iwi ancestors. He was restrained from coming closer.

“Many people felt the whale should have been buried complete,” Mr Mapp said.

“There was a lot of blood and guts. Some people were horrified. Some New Zealanders have lost the connection between the meat they buy packaged in the supermarket and where the meat they eat comes from.”

But this Mapp feller says creating cultural objects or carved artifacts enabled contemporary society to honour the spirit of the whale.

“It is a way the whale can live on.”

This seems like a good thing, at first blush, but when you think about it, we would finish up ripping the bones out of all sorts of creatures, including Alf’s Uncle Fred and Auntie Mabel and just about anybody you can think of, to honour their spirit and enable them to live on.

But then there’s a load of guff about “DOC protocol”.

We are told that DOC protocol allowed iwi first use of the whale.

So how was this protocol shaped, and who instigated it, and how long has it been DOC protocol?

Oh.

And let’s not forget the small matter of a religious ceremony for the poor bloody whale, without anyone bothering to find out if it wanted such a ceremony.

Ngati Toa member Nelson Solomon is quoted on this:

“We did a prayer when we got to the beach, a prayer when we did our stuff, buried it in a beautiful place, had a lovely funeral and said a sad farewell.”

“We are sorry if people were offended but we thought we did what was best in our interests.”

At least he’s honest.

Iwi did what they thought was best in their interests, and fuck everyone else.

It will be completely immaterial to what happened – of course – that a Maori carver was saying (here) that sperm whale teeth about 100mm – 120mm long seemed to be reaching $300 each uncarved.

This feller quoted the case of a bloke who put a jawbone up on TradeMe just to see what he could get (before TradeMe put their ban on protected species auctions).

He turned up a week or so later with a big smile on his face having sold it for $3500.

More bollocks packaged as cultural considerations were dished up in another report (here).

This time Te Atiawa spokeswoman Ani Parata is quoted –

Ms Parata said the jawbone was significant in Maori culture.

”The whale is dead, but we use it, and the teeth, to keep the whale alive and with us,” she said.

In other words, Alf – too – could be kept alive by having Ms Parata and her butcher mates whack out his jawbone and do things with his teeth.

Yep. That’s what she is saying.

”Through the teeth, and the jawbone, we used to make patus [clubs] out of them, and other taongas that were very important.”

Then comes the small matter of entitlement.

Ms Parata said the jawbone will now be placed in a net and dropped into the sea for about four weeks, where sea animals will clean it. It will then be removed and left to dry, before being used by the local iwi.

She said although it is a gruesome job removing the jaw bone, it is important for Maori culture, and prevents others trying to take the bone.

Ah. It prevents others trying to take the bone.

And why shouldn’t others take it?

Try not to laugh, dear reader, but –

”It’s very important for us to do it, for our culture, but it also means it’s done in respectful way.”

Memo Mrs Grumble: please keep Ms Parata away from showing Alf respect, after he has carked.

He would rather not finish up living for ever as something dangling from a chain around her neck.

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