A group of Whanganui people spent their Sunday evening helping a beached whale back into the sea.

Trent Williamson was walking with his family along the beach about 5.30pm when he heard about the whale stranded a little further along. He was about 10 minutes north of Ototoka Beach at the time.

"There was a young couple trying to save it ... [we] went up to see if we could give them a hand," he said.

About eight people ended up helping in the rescue mission, including Mr Williamson's two children.

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He said the whale was stranded 200-400 metres from the water, beneath the cliffs.

It was right at the high tide mark, and the tide was "dead low" while they were rescuing it.

The whale, believed to be a female pygmy sperm whale, was "badly sunburnt" and bleeding. The first people there had wrapped it in sweatshirts and were pouring water on it.

A member of DOC arrived just before Mr Williamson.

The group rolled the whale on to a tarpaulin and carried it to the water.

"The girls struggled a fair bit, it was bloody heavy," he said.

Mr Williamson and the DOC employee walked the whale out to waist depth and held it for about 40 minutes to an hour, but as Mr Williamson was swapping with another man so he could go back to the shore, the whale swam away.

"It was pretty cool."