Muttonbirds, or sooty shearwaters, are known as tītī in Te Ao Māori. These tītī have been harvested by Kāi Tahu Māori families with affiliations to the infamous Tītī Islands, off the coast of New Zealand’s southernmost region.
Tītī harvesting practices have a strong cultural legacy for the people of this region, which includes the ancestral right to collect muttonbirds over a two month season every year, from 1 April to 31 May. During this time, whole families come together, travelling by boat and helicopter to the islands. There, they work day and night to catch and process the birds into a delicacy prized by Māori all over the country.
Muttonbirding is a seasonal, economic and cultural cornerstone of the area and for the whānau who have harvesting rights. The traditional uses of the birds have not changed much in a contemporary setting - they provide a rich food source, valuable trade item and are also prized for their feathers and down.
Muttonbirds are plentiful and, in recorded history, Māori have never imposed a catch quota on the islands. Harvest-management systems on each of the islands are determined by traditional guidelines (kaitiakitanga) to ensure the tītī remain plentiful for the next generation.