A group of long-finned pilot whales has been buried after stranding on a remote East Cape beach.
The 51 whales came ashore in two-metre swells at Whangaparaoa Beach, near Cape Runaway, early on Sunday, Department of Conservation Gisborne Whakatane marine ranger Jamie Quirk said.
Forty-four of the whales died relatively quickly from natural causes, while the other seven were injured during the stranding and were euthanised.
The death of so many animals was always heart-rending, and the whales had since been buried in a large grave in the back dunes of the beach.
"The local community there have been outstanding in assisting us to bury the whales. Without their involvement the whole work would have been a lot more difficult."
Sea conditions at the time of the stranding meant it would have been hazardous and impossible to try to get any of the whales back out to sea, Quirk said.
Whales had stranded before in the bay, which had a beautiful sandy beach.
There had been a large stranding in the mid to late 1980s, and smaller events since then.
"These mass strandings of pilot whales tend to happen at very flat sandy beaches.
"This place is like a bit of a fish hook, and there's deepwater offshore," Quirk said.
"We don't fully understand why whales strand like this, but we know these sloping sandy beaches have something to do with it."