On the weekend down in Canterbury, apart from the horrific earthquake, there was an extremely unusual dolphin stranding. A 1.8m male Hourglass dolphin came ashore at Flea Bay. Only a handful of complete specimens of this species have ever been dissected before. Although they are sometimes seen in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, they very rarely strand.
There is only one other record from New Zealand and that is also from the Canterbury region. This very distinctive black and white animal has colour markings on it like an hourglass, and hence it’s common name. There is some dispute genetically about where it sits in relation to other dolphins, it currently sits in the genus Lagenorhynchus like our commonly seen Dusky dolphin, however there is some suggestion that it may be more closely aligned to the genus Cephalorhynchus like the New Zealand Hector’s (and Maui’s) dolphin.
Through the remarkable recovery of the specimen by Derek Cox of the Department of Conservation and the agreement of the local Runanga (Ngāi Tahu), it has been sent in a fresh state up to Massey University Albany campus in Auckland. Karen Stockin realised it was this rare species of dolphin and alerted other scientists around the country.
Anton van Helden Te Papa’s collection manager of Marine Mammals, will fly up to Auckland tomorrow to assist with the necropsy of the animal.
These animals are so rare, that scientists are pooling their expertise to try and learn as much about the specimen as they can.
Anton van Helden