Coromandel locals thanked for whale rescue efforts, dead whales blessed with a karakia

Coromandel locals are being thanked for saving the lives of some pilot whales which became stranded in Coromandel over the weekend.

Department of Conservation rangers and Project Jonah medics helped locals to try and free around 40 whales that had beached in Colville Bay on Saturday.

The majority were refloated during the 9pm high tide and guided offshore, but part of the pod died after stranding again.

Project Jonah spokesperson Daren Grover thanked locals for helping with the rescue efforts.

"It would have been a very different response on Saturday morning if it wasn't for the local response, they got there very quickly. They actually managed to get the majority of the whales out to sea."

He said now the volunteer efforts have turned to the dead whales, which were blessed on Sunday.

"Here in New Zealand, the response to any whale passing or any whale dying is there is always a karakia performed to acknowledge the passing of the whales, or individual whales or many whales or even if a whale washed up on the shore, that's always part of the process. Iwi around the country hold whales with great respect," Grover said.

"The whales that sadly died on the beach, they were blessed by local iwi, a karakia was performed. Then there were discussions between the Department of Conservation and local iwi to find a suitable place for the bodies of the whales to be buried."

Grover says currently there is a level of protection in place for whales and dolphins in New Zealand from human interaction.

But he's urging the new Government to establish greater marine protected areas to help protect the marine mammals.

"We have a very large oceanic area which is a part of New Zealand - one of the largest areas of the ocean that falls under our territory. And less than 1 percent of that is currently protected in a marine reserve status. We'd love to see a far, far greater area of that protected," he said.

"If we get greater marine reserves then there's a greater chance of big animals living longer lives, and populations growing. Because populations have been decimated over the past couple of hundred years with commercial whaling."

Grover said he wanted to remind Kiwis to get in contact with the Department of Conservation or Project Jonah if they see a whale or dolphin that they have concerns about.

"We'd rather know and it be a false alarm than not know and there be animals out there that require assistance," he said.