The danger of the $12000 flying turtle funeral  


You couldn’t actually write a satire like this…

This week we revealed a story of government waste that is so incredible you couldn’t make it up.

Taxpayers shelled out thousands of dollars transporting a dead turtle from Banks Peninsula to Wellington, storing it in a freezer for 21 months, then sending it back down to where it washed up for a high-powered and fully-catered powhiri.

The turtle even got a taxpayer-funded helicopter ride and a handmade coffin constructed by public servants. No scientific research was performed at any stage.

The total cost to taxpayers for Michelangelo’s eventful afterlife is difficult to quantify, but we’re placing it in the tens of thousands. Te Papa and DOC’s total reported expenses were $11,742.31, but that excludes the time cost for high-level salaried staff.

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…when we can’t feed kids lunch and breakfast at school and can’t lift benefits but can spend $12000 on a turtle funeral, it’s difficult not to feel angry.

There are two dangers here, the first is the Taxpayers Union becoming relevant and the second is this fiasco is so ridiculous it’s mockable and the power of mockery can destroy any earnest progress in a millisecond.

The entire thing reads like a Taika Waititi film plot.

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  1. The worst part of the story was the response from DOC and Te Papa. They had no shame and believed they we justified in their approach.

  2. Really? The crown returns a taonga which they had taking under mistaken authorization, in accordance with ToW article 2, and all you lot can do is bemoan the cost:

    “…ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa”

    Making an error, receiving more complete information, then acting to remedy that mistake is not grounds for condemnation to me. The number of Te Papa staff may seem excessive, but I guess that depends on how much you value Kai Tahu mana:

    “8. Which members of the senior management team attended (including the CEO)?
    Te Papa representatives at the pōwhiri for the honu at Koukourārata:
    Te Papa Board – James Daniels
    Te Papa Executive Leadership Team – Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Kaihautū; Dean Peterson, Director of
    Collections and Research and Carolyn Roberts-Thompson, Director Ngā Manu Atarau
    Te Papa Management – Phil Edgar, Head of Natural History; Te Herekiekie Herewini, Head of Karanga
    Aotearoa Repatriation; Migoto Eria, Head of Mātauranga Māori
    Te Papa staff – Alan Tennyson, Curator Vertebrates

    “9. Who spoke at the powhiri?
    The Kaihautū Dr Arapata Hakiwai and Head of Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation, Te Herekiekie
    Herewini, spoke at the pōwhiri where the Honu was handed back to the iwi.”

    My hope from this (admittedly rather expensive) mistake, is that DOC learns; better iwi/ hapu consultation practices, before assuming ownership of taonga. It’s hard to be that sympathetic for the costs thieves incur in returning what they have stolen.

    • You are aware the turtle was in a freezer for 21mths at te papa before the Iwi decided…yes we want it back now!. or did that part escape you, or just a trivial fact to ignore?

    • Thieves? I confess that at times I’ve used a few choice words when describing DOC, but thieves?

      How can a tropical turtle be considered the rightful property of a New Zealand tribe? They’re only occasional vagrants to NZ waters. “Repatriation” – that’s hilarious. If we really were going to repatriate the turtle, we would probably have to send it back to whichever tropical beach it was born on.

      • Because it travelled here (presumably) without human assisstance, it is considered indigenous – same as those sea snakes that got washed up on a beach in Northland recently:

        “Sightings of the snakes are fairly rare in New Zealand, though they are believed to breed in tropical waters in the Northern Tasman Sea. They are only found here between six and 10 times a year…
        As the sea snake is deemed a native – because it made its own way here – it comes under the responsibility of the Department of Conservation.”

        No word on whether DOC consulted with iwi about that either, nor if there is different tikanga with live strandings than dead ones.

        In the case of the turtle, I think I can see how the DOC error happened. Firstly, it washed up in Pigeon Bay; rather than (nearby) Port Levy, or Horomaka, and local Māori aren’t likely to be staying in that luxury accommodation! There is no mention in the contemporary reports of communication with Kāi Tahu – so I assume that that was with whoever bothered answering their phone that day (if even that much), rather than a formal application to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (official paperwork tends to use the northern spelling and dialect). So the DOC ranger probably thought that; since the people who found it didn’t want it but instead called him in, then he could do what he wanted with it. Also, swimming out to drag a floating 350kg dead turtle up onto the back of a ute has to be fairly tiring – but driving it to a school while sorting out cold-storage, rather than to the local Marae, was an expensive mistake in a long run.
        And sure; Biodiversity Ranger Cox, may have been too tired to think of every detail. What was the Wellington DOC head office’s excuse?

        “This is the third leatherback Cox has seen washing up in the area in 12 years.
        The process of getting the sea turtle’s body to Te Papa, currently underway, has been challenging.
        The sea turtle was first reported to DOC when it was found on Monday by the owners of the Annandale villas nearby.
        “I went for a drive out there initially to get photos and take measurements,” Cox said.

        “He contacted the DOC marine team in Wellington who told him Te Papa would be interested in the sea turtle.”

          • “…ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa”

            • Yes I know, but what exactly does “taonga” mean? Anything and everything an iwi claims to be a taonga? That wouldn’t be a sustainable definition, as it would be open to abuse. And seriously, a vagrant turtle is a taonga that requires a state-funded funeral?

              • PPII; if you are really so illiterate in one of Aotearoa’s three official languages (I am pretty shaky in NZsign myself), then it is easy enough to find definitions online:

                1. (noun) property, goods, possession, effects, object.
                2. (noun) treasure, anything prized – applied to anything considered to be of value including socially or culturally valuable objects, resources, phenomenon, ideas and techniques.


                However, if you are wanting specific details of what Kāi Tahu (and The Crown) regard as taonga within their rohe, you are welcome to wade through all 500 pages of the; Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. I couldn’t be bothered with that myself.

                • “Anything prized”. Yes well like I said, that’s not a legally operational definition of taonga because it’s too open to abuse. This case being a good example.

                  And tell me, how is this helping lift Māori out of poverty?

        • What’s a snake worth if a turtle with all the trimmings is 12k?
          How many troughing fuckwits have to fly with it?
          What’s the protocol for air travel of woke public funded bureaucrats?
          Isn’t the planet burning?

          • I don’t know if the iwi in that part of upper northland (Te Rarawa? It’s not Ngāpuhi, because north of Hokianga) have an agreement with the government, beyond Te Tiriti o Waitangi, about taonga species. Nor if they regard sea-snakes as such.
            But in the case of Kāi Tahu, the taonga status of many species has been formally recognized:

            298 Special association with taonga fish species acknowledged
            The Crown acknowledges the cultural, spiritual, historic, and traditional association of Ngāi Tahu with the taonga fish species.

            From: Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998 (pdf)

            But that is a long read in legalese (& unlinkable) – if honu are mentioned specifically it will be in some appendix I couldn’t be bothered hunting out. This seems more relevant to the question of whether Kāi Tahu rūnaka were consulted, and thus if DOC had their permission to transfer the specimen to Te Papa:

            Ngāi Tahu is asking why it wasn’t informed or involved when a giant leatherback turtle washed up in its rohe…
            Matiu Payne from Lincoln University’s Te Whare Pūtahi says Ngāi Tahu consider the honu a kaitiaki.

            He says stories passed down says its job was to protect the wāhi tapu and ancient places of learning in that area.. only when you see the physical representation of our tīpuna, now deceased, those stories suddenly ring more true and it crates a deeper sense of grief and sadness that we didn’t have the opportunity to grieve for our kaitiaki, for our tipuna,”


  3. The Daily Lag, huh?
    I may check in tomorrow to see if I made any typos, and if I can find the post. My comment is unlikely to appear before then – so not much point in trying to have a conversation, since their will be considerable delay in any response I may make.

    edit; This comment went straight through, but the other it references is held up for an unguessable amount of time? Does anyone here understand how to predict comment lag on this site? If there is a pattern, it eludes me.

  4. The problem isn’t just “oh, what will people say!?” That’s $12K less that DOC has to spend on actual conservation, pest control, track maintenance, processing of research permit applications etc.

  5. Back in last century a shy young student came into my wife’s class and said he had seen a turtle on the beach. Not to loose an opportunity, my wife took the class down to the beach and carried it back to the school where it was examined thoroughly and they used a book to identify it. Then it suddenly moved so DOC was called so they or Kelly Tarltons sent a helicopter. The child was interviewed by the TV crew. The kids had to wave the helicopter away for the camera and saw the helicopter return for the cameraman. The kids said this day was better than Christmas. The turtle died before it got to Kelly Tarlton’s. This must have cost a bit, but the value in education for the children was uncountable.

  6. It is a shame that woke values don’t seem to care that poor kids are suffering in Motels and its seriously affecting their futures?

  7. $12,000 less for DoC to spend on dropping 1080 everywhere, killing our carrion feeding native birds like the falcon, can only be a good thing.

    • If 1080 is on balance bad for native birds, can you explain why the parliamentary commissioner for the environment strongly recommended it’s continued use, Mr. Judge?

      She said “While there may be an alternative to 1080 one day, if we want to keep our forests for future generations we simply cannot afford to stop using 1080. ”

      See here:

      • The “on balance” arguments for 1080 tend to try and smooth out the uncomfortable fact that yes the poison is bad for some native birds (no, not all)
        Care to discuss kea?
        Ongoing mass mortality events to 1080 poison, very sketchy cherry picked data to “show” it improved nesting success but simply didn’t use data from the kea they killed.
        (Okarito study)
        As a K select slow breeder, Loss of adult kea (poison)is 4x more devastating to the species as chicks (predation)from data modeling so nesting success would have to be up 400% of the adult loss which it wasn’t.

        So what balance are you talking?
        We get lots more tui but wipe out kea?
        Wipe out the Rock Wren in Kahurangi but get some extra wood pigeons?
        Aerial 1080 works best viewed from Wellington or Auckland and worse the closer to the drop you are.
        Ever wonder at the distribution of fans/detractors?

        • Yes, happy to discuss kea. Yes, kea have been killed by 1080. But far more kea are killed by stoats and other mammalian pests. They could easily kill a stoat, yet they are strangely passive when confronted with an intruder in their nesting cavity – thanks to the historical lack of mammalian predators here. Yes they are a long-lived species with a low reproductive rate, but that’s no argument against 1080 – unless you think they somehow recover fast from being killed by mammalian predators.

          Can you substantiate the “cherry-picking” charge?

          And as you must be aware, 1080 did not “wipe out” rock wren in Kahurangi NP. Here they are, doing quite well after the 2015 drop, despite initial mortality:

          What do you hope to achieve by peddling untruths?

          I don’t live in Auckland or Wellington, and I spend a lot of time in the bush. Yes I’m aware there’s plenty of rural opposition to 1080, but what does that actually prove? Some hunters oppose 1080 because of by-kill of deer and pigs. But there are still plenty of deer and pigs out there – far too many in fact. I’ve recently been to a remote site in the Kaimanawa ranges where you can’t walk anywhere without stepping on deer scat.

          • Unfortunately it’s not untrue, for kea the facts are speaking for themselves, mortality to poison is common and well documented, claims of nesting success are based on bad science:

            Read the Okarito study in to nesting success:


            and explain where these birds are please:

            They appear to have completely omitted the kea they killed during the nesting study.

            That is cherry picking, omitting discussing dead kea from their study or their empty nests on kea nest survival eg: totally ignoring the negative effect of the poison gives a completely biased result wouldn’t you agree?

            • Well I’m pleased to see you’ve dropped the rock wren story at least.

              As for the keas, I’m not sure what we’re arguing about. I haven’t read that NZJEcol paper closely, but it appears to focus on nesting success, not mortality of adults. DOC has publically acknowledged that kea died after the 1080 drop – there’s nothing secretive about it. They also acknowledged they need to do a better job of pest control in kea habitat (imho DOC needs to do a better job in general, not just in terms of pest control). I don’t know how DOC practice has changed since then, but 1080 in kea-proof bait stations is probably a better idea in kea habitat (they’re too curious for their own good).

              • PPII yes it would be good wouldn’t it but helicopter delivery is cheaper and justified for its “net benefit” (“on balance”), their demise is an inconvenient truth.

                You misinterpret what a said about rock wren, I was asking what would be an acceptable trade off “on balance” , it’s a weasel term used to justify anything with out looking at actual uncomfortable details.

                FYI I have done work for DOC (gratis) in a professional capacity as a vet in years gone by, I have both a professional and personal interest in kea, I’ve read the studies, I’ve even read the post Mortem results.
                If anything, mortality to 1080 in kea is higher as not all dead birds have been tested (eg if no green dye found in gut) and secondary poisoning is a huge risk for a curious bird that scavenges carrion many months after monitoring finishes.

  8. I dunno? I’ve seen more of our money spent on dumber things.
    Like big movie moguls, lets change pictures on money referendum etc.
    The Jesuit Relations contain a Huron story concerning the World Turtle:
    “‘When the Father was explaining to them [some Huron seminarists] some circumstance of the passion of our Lord, and speaking to them of the eclipse of the Sun, and of the trembling of the earth which was felt at that time, they replied that there was talk in their own country of a great earthquake which had happened in former times; but they did not know either the time or the cause of that disturbance. “There is still talk,” (said they) “of a very remarkable darkening of the Sun, which was supposed to have happened because the great turtle which upholds the earth, in changing its position or place, brought its shell before the Sun, and thus deprived the world of sight.”
    “An 1877 drawing of the world supported on the backs of four elephants, themselves resting on the back of a turtle.”


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