A dead sperm whale washed up on the shore of Tauranga's Papamoa Beach has had its lower jaw sawed off in an act of mutilation local iwi are decrying a "disrespectful" act of "desecration".
The huge decomposing mammal was found on the eastern end of Papamoa Beach, Tauranga, on Thursday afternoon by fisherman.
However, while local iwi were consulting with the Department of Conservation on what to do with the carcass two men in a 4WD rocked up and "cut the jaw off with chainsaws".
A police spokesperson said they were notified of the illegal jaw removal just before 5.50pm yesterday.
They attended the scene at Papamoa Beach, near Taylors Reserve, and saw to males leaving the scene in a flatbed truck.
"It's disgusting. It is embarrassing for me as Maori that happened to the whale. It was disrespectful to the whale and to the members of the public who were there guarding it," Ngati Ranginui representative Carlton Bidois said to NZ Herald.
"Our tipuna never used chainsaws to hack whales to pieces."
Mr Bidois said while he did not necessarily object to someone claiming the right to culturally harvest the whale, established cultural traditions should have been followed, and the act by the two men was unacceptable.
Aside from cultural significance, Bidois said the jaw was the most financially valuable bone in the whale.
"A carved whale's tooth can go for up to $3000 apiece. There were a significant number of big teeth on that whale," he said.
Department of Conservation spokeswoman Jessyca Bernard said a fine of $250,000 or two years in prison could be handed out under the Wildlife Act for unlawfully obtaining a protected marine animal, or part of it.
"What should have been an enriching cultural experience of tikanga and karakia was ruined by this selfish and criminal act," Ms Bernard said.
"The department will work alongside the police through this investigation and hopes to be able to return this toanga to its mana whenua."
Police say there are currently no further lines of inquiry over the theft, which is an offense under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.