People should stay away from a humpback whale carcass washed up on a remote beach north of Dunedin, the Department of Conservation says.
The 9.7-meter-long juvenile humpback whale was first spotted off the coast of Warrington a fortnight ago.
A week ago it washed up on a beach near Omimi.
Department of Conservation biodiversity warden Jim Fyfe said it would likely remain on the beach as it disintegrated.
“The decomposition of whales can be a health risk because they are mammals and carry bacteria and diseases that can be transmitted to humans.”
People should stay away from the whale to respect the privacy of neighboring landowners and because of the health risks it poses, he said.
The most direct access to the beach is on private property and the landowners were unable to accommodate people who wanted access to see the whale.
The whale was left to decompose because the site was difficult to access by land or water, meaning it was impractical to remove or bury the carcass.
Surfers and swimmers should be aware that the carcass also increases the risk of shark encounters in the wider area, such as at Warrington Beach and nearby surfing beaches.
“While we haven’t seen evidence of increased shark activity in the area, research has shown that sharks can stay close to beached whale carcasses in search of food,” Fyfe said.
The department and Kati Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, the local rūnaka, would monitor the whale’s decomposition, which could take several months.
Department staff are expected to meet with the Warrington Surf Life Saving Club in the run up to the summer to discuss the risks.
A TBEN sample was taken from the whale and the cause of death was unknown, Fyfe said.
Humpback whales could be found off the coast of Otago between May and July, as they migrate north away from the cold Antarctic waters. However, it was unusual for them to wash off.