DoC on standby in case whales rescued on Coromandel Peninsula return

Hundreds of holidaymakers have spent the day trying to rescue a pod of stranded pilot whales in the Coromandel Peninsula.

Eleven whales were stranded before dawn on Saturday on the Matarangi Spit, four of these had died. It sparked a huge local effort to get the remaining whales back in the water.

Mark Hall from Fire and Emergency received a call that one whale had been stranded, but what he saw at the beach took him by surprise.

"We didn't realise there was so many … [We] put a call out on the local radio to get some assistance here, and we were quite overwhelmed by the amount of people that actually turned up," he said.

As the crowd grew from 30 to almost 100, the tide was pulling out. People were working hard to keep the remaining seven whales alive until high tide at 2:30pm.

"What really surprised me is the people power, just with paint buckets and things like that," Hall said. "You don't get that every day."

As Project Jonah, the Department of Conservation (DoC), emergency services and locals worked tirelessly, local iwi started the burial process.

A karakia was said over the four dead whales, including a calf that hadn't survived.

At high tide, the refloating process began for the seven still alive and on the sand.

Locals and experts dug channels to guide the pod back into the water.

DoC said during the initial rescue efforts, the living whales were successfully refloated, but swam back into the estuary. Four boats were then sent to guide the whales into the ocean.

The rescue efforts took six hours, but DoC is on standby in case there's a restranding.