As three separate pods of whales have beached over three nights, and Farewell Spit has been closed to volunteer rescuers as darkness falls there is fear there will be carnage in the morning.
As the sun set on Saturday, the Department of Conservation cleared the beach of volunteers as it became too risky to carry out efforts to refloat the up to 200 whales beached in five separate groups along the coast from as far as Puponga to Triangle Flats along the Spit.
As efforts were abandoned, leaving the nearly 200 whales struggling overnight, it is feared even more whales could be stranded by sunrise in yet another mass stranding.
At high tide this morning, hundreds of whales were pushed offshore by volunteers who formed a human chain in the waves.
This afternoon, DOC cleared the spit and euthanised 20 of the surviving whales with a rifle, whales which were too ill to be rescued or stay alive.
Operations Manager for DOC Golden Bay Andrew Lamason said it was a matter of weighing up resources.
"You have to hedge your bets, whether you use your resources to save 20 whales that are very sick or 200 healthy ones."
The tide is now going out in Golden Bay, with low tide around 5pm.
He said the whales are only seven kilometres along the spit and are still in very real danger.
"We've got boats out there and we're trying to keep them offshore, but they've got a long way to go," he said.
Farewell spit is 26 kilometres long and the whales need to get to the end before they can reach the open sea.
Volunteers turned up on Friday and focused on keeping the whales cool as well as propping them up with sand to prevent them from breaking their fins.
Hundreds of volunteers turned up on Saturday morning to help the whales back into the sea as the tide came in.
Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said there were about 40 whales left.
HUGE STRANDING'S TOLL
Thursday night's stranding of the pod of 416 whales was thought to be the third largest stranding of whales recorded in the country's history.
The huge pod had been seen swimming in Golden Bay that night.
About 300 – close to 75 per cent – had died by the time Department of Conservation (DOC) staff arrived on Friday morning.
The dark-coloured carcasses were strewn along the beach, most of them at the high-tide mark.
Department of Conservation operations manager Neil Murray said the stranding was the worst he had seen.
An estimated 50 whales, including the pod's matriarch, returned to the sea.
However, the remaining 80 to 90 survivors re-stranded in shallow water.
WHY DO WHALES STRAND?
There were many theories among the people at Farewell Spit for why the whales stranded.
Murray said it was possible there were some sick animals that went in to strand and the rest of the pod followed.
Project Jonah coordinator Mark Rigby said he could not comment on the reasons for the stranding.
"All we know is it keeps happening. There will be people who will argue that it's natural. We're here for the welfare of the animals."
Carnage overnight as three separate pods of whales beach in three days JULIAN LEE, NINA HINDMARSH AND JONATHAN CARSON February 11 2017
Volontari al lavoro a Farewell Spit, in Nuova Zelanda, per cercare di salvare circa 90 balene pilota spiaggiate sulla battigia dell'isola.
Secondo quanto riportano i media locali, in totale sono 416 i cetacei che si sono arenati e 300 di loro sono già morti. I volontari, residenti e uomini del dipartimento ambientale, hanno formato delle catene umane per passarsi i secchi pieni d'acqua e gettarli sugli animali nella speranza di riuscire, con l'alta marea, a far loro riprendere il mare. Un primo tentativo nel corso della giornata di ieri ha avuto un successo solo parziale, con circa 50 balene che sono riuscite a tornare a largo. Una novantina quelle tornate a riva.
Non si conosce ancora la causa di questo fenomeno, ma si tratta del peggior spiaggiamento di massa dal 1918, quando furono circa 1000 le balene pilota ad arenarsi alla Chatham Islands.
Secondo l'ong Project Jonah, che sta coordinando il salvataggio, non c'è una sola ragione per cui le balene si arenano sull'isola e le possibili spiegazioni vanno dalle malattie alle condizioni meteorologiche estreme.