Volunteers begin refloating stranded pygmy killer whales off Northland's Rarawa Beach

Attempts to refloat eight pygmy killer whales off the shore of a Northland beach have not gone to plan, with one having to be euthanised after returning to shore.

At roughly 11:30am on Tuesday, the Department of Conservation (DOC) attempted to refloat and release the whales off Rarawa beach, with the help of locals and marine charity Project Jonah.

While the whales were moved out into the water, two returned to shore after being released. One was so exhausted it had to be euthanised.

The remaining six are "still near shore, which is of concern," according to DOC.

While the release initially seemed to be going as planned, Newshub cameraman Dean Whitehead said "there is always a chance of course that the whales may get out and turn around and come back in".

Mr Whitehead said the whales had been placed in the water on small pontoons and volunteers moved them out to about 20m offshore.

"They have got lots of people standing in the water linking hands, getting ready to make some noise to help drive the animals back out to sea," he said.

Tuesday's attempt came after the whales were moved from Ninety Mile Beach, where they were stranded on Monday morning, to a stream near Rarawa Beach. DOC staff waited overnight with the animals for the high tide on Tuesday before moving them to the sea.

Marine charity Project Jonah said in a tweet on Monday that conditions were believed to be better at Rarawa Beach on the east coast, as well as the beach having the added advantage of the stream to keep the whales.

Originally there were 12 pygmy killer whales stranded on Ninety Mile Beach, but four died before Tuesday's attempt.

Mr Whitehead estimated there were roughly 200 locals, including school children and families, who had gone down to the beach to help assist DOC.

One hundred and forty-five pilot whales also died on Monday when they became stranded on Stewart Island. It is not believed the strandings are linked.


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