Beautrais talks science and tales of beaked whales

11 May 2019

George Shepherd measures the skull of the Shepherd's Beaked Whale he discovered and reassembled from bones. Photo / Whanganui Regional Museum

George Shepherd measures the skull of the Shepherd's Beaked Whale he discovered and reassembled from bones.
PHOTO / Whanganui Regional Museum


In 1933 a Whanganui museum curator brought the bones of a beaked whale back from Ohawe Beach and reassembled them to discover it was a completely new species.

On May 28 Whanganui science teacher and environmentalist Keith Beautrais will talk about Whanganui Regional Museum's collection of beaked whales, which he curated. The talk is in the Davis Lecture Theatre and starts at 7.30pm.

It's put on by the Whanganui Science Forum, costs $4 for members and $5 for non-members, and will be followed by supper.

The museum's beaked whale collection is internationally important, and the whale Shepherd assembled from bones in the 1930s is its centrepiece. Beautrais will share what little is known about the 23 species of beaked whale.

They live in deep seas and are seldom seen or washed ashore. One of the "superpowers" he may talk about is their ability to dive deeper and longer than any other mammal.

They have beaky snouts and the males have teeth - which may be a secondary sexual characteristic, like the antlers on deer, used to win mates.

They eat squid, fish and crustaceans and capture them by a suction process.

As an environmental activist, Beautrais has sat in a canoe in front of a United States warship, and been kicked out of Whirinaki Forest by the then Forest Service. He wonders whether these rare whales will survive the current "man-made environmental crisis".

He has taught and advised on science for more than 40 years, and twice taken up Royal Society of New Zealand Teacher Fellowships - one with the Conservation Department and one with the museum.

By Laurel Stowell
Whanganui Chronicle 11/5/19