Tears were shed as volunteers, Department of Conservation staff and members of Project Jonah fought unsuccessfully to save a pod of 28 whales that had stranded at the base of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
The long-finned pilot whales washed up high on the beach during an unusually high tide. Twelve whales had died by mid-afternoon yesterday, when the final decision was made by DOC and iwi representatives to euthanase them.
DOC community relations officer Greg Napp said the whales appeared to have been sick before they stranded.
"These ones didn't look healthy. It's sad, but there's acceptance here as well," said Lynne Udell, a Project Jonah volunteer.
During a hot, windy day, people were walking three kilometres along the beach to reach the whales.
Project Jonah volunteers and other volunteers continued to arrive, offering help after the whales had died.
Iwi representatives John Ward-Holmes, Mairangi Reiher and Barney Thomas arrived at Farewell Spit to offer a final karakia to the whales earlier in the evening.
Last night a Rangihaeata resident reported seeing more whales off the coast of Rangihaeata.
Today, there was concern that more whales might strand. Project Jonah is urging the public to stay watchful.
Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster said yesterday's stranding could be just the beginning.
"This group of whales may have been part of a much larger pod, and it is not uncommon for further stranding behaviour to follow an incident like this.
"Locals or people who have travelled to the area to help with the stranding should now direct their efforts to checking out Golden Bay beaches and bays regularly over the next week.
"If there are further strandings or potential strandings, the sooner the Department of Conservation knows and we can get volunteers there to help, the greater the chances of the whales surviving."
This morning, DOC Golden Bay area manager John Mason said that of the 28 beached whales, two stranded 4km south of the main pod on the beach close to the main road, with another whale stranding at Taupata Point. They would be picked up and taken to be with the larger pod.
Mr Mason said that because the pod whales were well out of the way of humans, it was safe to leave them so that "nature could take its course".
Any sightings of pilot whales in the Golden Bay area should be reported to DOC on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or 0800 4 WHALE (0800 494 253).
- © Fairfax NZ News