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Residents carve up ‘gift from sea’

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Aug. 25, 2008) – A baby humpback whale which was washed up on the reef of the outer island of Mauke has been treated by its residents as a gift from the sea.

The humpback was found by Nooapii Tangaroa at Akapa, near Angataura, a landing at Mauke, on the northern side of the island.

According to his cousin Jean Mason, the whale was discovered on Tuesday 12 August. Measuring about eight metres in length, the whale is believed to have been in a pod of six with five adults that had hung around the island for a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, the whale was dead by the time Tangaroa stumbled upon it at about 7am on the day of discovery.

Mason says that Maukeans treat whale standings as a gift from the sea. They never traditionally hunted whale but when one washed up it was a community event in that it required the whole population to help carve it up and take it away.

The meat is used for food and preparation involves drying it out in the sun. Today it is still sun-dried first before it is bagged for freezing. The flesh can keep well for up to four days and when cooked it looks like beef.

Every part of the animal is used. The blubber is boiled up for pigs to eat. Bone is used for carving fishhooks. The vertebra is used as seats for coconut graters.

Mason says that Tangaroa thinks he was the first to find the whale and calculates it had been dead for about eight hours because he had been on that side of the island the day before and had seen it frolicking around its mother.

Tangaroa told his father Kairae, a local fisherman, and he and other fishermen went to that side of the island, to help carve up the whale.

Mason says it’s not the first whale stranding in recent times. Apparently a large male humpback beached itself on the eastern side of the island around Arapaea in 1982-83. Mason says that according to Kairae, that particular whale was so large it was taller than a house. The men used ladders to climb up on the whale in order to carve it, using axes and chainsaws and it took about three to four days to completely dismember it.

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