Whales that stranded on a popular Northland beach, including one which couldn't swim back out to sea and died, were likely to have been a family pod.
Project Jonah - an environmental organisation dedicated to the protection of whales, dolphins and seals and the oceans they call home - fielded a call from a member of the public who said four marine mammals had become stranded in shallow water on Ruakākā Beach, about 7.30 on Tuesday.
Several locally-trained medics who volunteer for Project Jonah were sent out to the beach to help locals push one stranded Gray's beaked whale back out to sea after three had already been successfully refloated.
They tried until 10pm before returning home.
Department of Conservation (DoC) rangers, onsite at 5am yesterday after completing a full sweep of the beach, discovered the dead whale.
Flensing of the carcass was to have been carried out by local hāpu Patuharakeke yesterday.
The last Gray's beaked whale to strand on a Northland beach was on March 9 last year at Moureeses Bay. The whale died, despite the efforts of locals to rescue it.
General manager of Project Jonah Daren Grover said very few of the Gray's beaked whale have ever survived a stranding and often an underlying problem such as an illness or old age brought them to shallow waters.
"This would have been a family pod which stayed together and as one became stranded, it called out to the others and drew them to shallow waters. Often you'll find one stranded.
"They are deep sea species and when we hear or see them close to the shore, we are on standby. This whale is one of the frequently stranded ones in New Zealand," Grover said.
The cause of Tuesday's stranding has yet to be determined.
DOC has taken routine samples and measurements and the whale was being moved to a burial site yesterday.
Gray's beaked whale is classified by DoC as 'data deficient' because so little is known about them. They typically grow to about 5.5m long.
Project Jonah is asking locals in Ruakākā to keep an eye on beaches over the next few days and to report any marine mammals in distress to DoC on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or Project Jonah on 0800 4 WHALE (0800 4 94253).