Theft of 23M-Year-Old Fossil Sparks Fury

Whale fossil was a popular attraction on New Zealand’s North Island, but it's gone now
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2022 12:46 PM CDT
Theft of 23M-Year-Old Fossil Sparks Fury
Stock image shows a view of the remote Whanganui River on New Zealand's North Island.   (Getty - Emilio Amato)

About 23 million years ago, a baleen whale expired on the sandy banks of what is now the Whanganui River, on the remote west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. There its fossil remained, until Sunday, per the New York Times, when two men cut it from its sandstone home and took it. While it hasn't been established whether making off with the fossil violated any law, the incident has sparked "fury" among the locals, according to Stuff. The fossil’s location was well known, and it was a popular attraction, but it was only accessible under certain weather and tide conditions.

"If all the stars aligned, that’s where you'd go," one local told a reporter. "It was really special—something that isn’t in a museum, that is real, in situ. It makes it even better." Witnesses say two men were spotted working on the fossil with a rock saw and chisel. After removing the four-square-foot chunk of sandstone, they put it in a boat and paddled downriver, where a woman was waiting with a trailer. Confronted by locals, the men claimed they had permission from the Maori tribe to take the fossil. One of the men was reportedly wearing an outdated Department of Conversation uniform, leading locals to believe he was posing as a ranger.

Because it was a holiday weekend, the concerned citizens were unable to fact-check the men's claims in real time. Spokespeople with both the Department of Conservation and Maori tribe have denied any connection. It's possible the fossil has since entered a lucrative black market from which few treasures return. One of the men was reportedly identified by locals, but the Times reports prosecution in the case is unlikely, and at this point, it hardly matters to those who loved the fossil. "You just feel like something’s being torn away," said one man who lives in the area. "Even if … the fossil is brought back—I mean, it’s not the same." (More fossil stories.)

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