Twenty-one surviving whales from a mass stranding at Whakatane have been successfully refloated and are back at sea.

DOC staff and volunteers at Ohope Beach had initially been waiting for high tide at 6pm tonight to attempt the refloat.

However the conditions changed and around 11am they were able to successfully refloat the pilot whales and they had headed out to sea.

The refloat followed 30 other whales who were refloated last night.


A total of 24 whales have died following the stranding, including 10 that were euthanased.

Department of Conservation community relations adviser Steve Brightwell, who was at the scene near Ohiwa Harbour, said one whale stranded itself on the beach yesterday afternoon.

By about 4pm, 60 pilot whales had followed suit and volunteers and residents from the area had flooded into the help re-float them, he said.

Department of Conservation staff and about 70 Project Jonah volunteers had also joined in to help save the whales.

Mr Brightwell said the amount of help from everyone was overwhelming.

"We certainly wouldn't have been able to get those 30 whales back into the water last night if it wasn't for the community, we couldn't have done it alone."

The public was asked to keep clear of Ohope boat ramp as this is being used as a staging post for those assisting with the rescue operation.

The Department of Conservation's Mike Jones said a helicopter was monitoring the waters off Whakatane.


He said there were encouraging signs whales saved earlier were not returning to shallow water.

Mr Jones said it's believed the mass stranding began after a badly injured whale headed up the harbour channel early yesterday afternoon.

That animal's companions were probably concerned for its well-being, possibly causing the mass stranding.

"Often it's to do with a sick or injured whale that comes in. And the pod naturally wants to come and support that injured one.

"Mass pilot whale strandings were more common in the Golden Bay area, the far North, and the Chatham Islands. Most strandings occurred in spring and summer.