Traditional Māori flensing underway for humpbacks

By Raniera Harrison
  • Northland

A nationally-acclaimed specialist in traditional whale flensing says that more iwi need to initiate protocol around procedures for whale strandings nationwide.

This comes as traditional de-boning procedures for the two humpback whales dead at Ripiro Beach, Northland get underway.

Traditional whale 'flensing' expert, Hori Parata (Ngātiwai) says the stranding of a whale brings numerous political complexities- some unnecessary for iwi in times of strife.

"The most bewildering part of it is not the whale- it's the politics. How do you deal with the Department of Conservation?  How do you deal with the public?  How do you deal with scientists?"

That's the question from the leader of the team of 15 Ngāti Wai Kaitiakitanga, who have set up camp at Ripiro to lead the traditional flensing process for the two humpback whales- the second of which was euthanised yesterday at approximately 3pm.

"With a bit of luck, we'll be able to bone both of those whales tomorrow.  We'll have the blubber thing start happening.  I can see us being here tonight and tomorrow night," says Parata, who was contacted especially by mana whenua, Te Roroa, to undertake the traditional proceedings.

Parata, who is recognised as the national authority on traditional whale flensing processes says iwi need to be more vigilant in exercising sovereignty over strandings.

"There used to be stupid kōrero coming from DOC back when we started, they didn't want Māori to eat whale, they might like it and want to go and kill a whale, koretake kōrero like that." 

In 2010, Ngāti Wai initiated the development of a protocol on the management of marine mammal strandings being agreed between the Ngātiwai Trust Board and Department of Conservation.

Parata says it's time for others to follow suit.

"The ultimate objective of the Ngāti Wai protocol was to change the Marine Mammals Protection Act in terms of its responses to us."

There is still discussion among local iwi, the Department of Conservation and other parties whether burials of the carcasses will take place on the beach - or further inland.

Te Roroa are yet to make a decision on the exact wāhi tapu where the remnants will be buried.