Department of Conservation staff were tonight monitoring a pod of about 200 pilot whales milling around in the sea off Golden Bay, believed to be the same whales that refloated after stranding.

DoC staff are in a boat monitoring the whales, and are also present on the shore to try to turn them around should there be a risk of standing.

The tide at Taupata Point on the western side of Golden Bay is now going out, according to a DoC spokeswoman and there is a risk of stranding unless the whales start to swim out to sea.

Just before 7pm, the spokeswoman said the pod was still at sea about 2km offshore from Pakawau on the western side of Golden Bay.


Staff will be back to search the coastline early tomorrow morning for any signs of beached whales.

Meanwhile, a digger is being brought in to move the carcasses of the pilot whales that died after becoming stranded on Farewell Spit last week into the sand dunes at a nature reserve further up the spit.

About three-quarters of the 400 whales that beached themselves on Thursday night died before rescuers arrived the next morning.

Another 200 were found alive on a nearby beach on Saturday morning, with most making their own way back to sea at high tide that night.

Volunteers successfully refloated the 17 that were still stranded the next day.

After the successful rescue during the weekend, DoC staff met today to figure out how to dispose of the bodies.

They considered fencing off the carcasses and leaving them to biodegrade on the beach before deciding to move them.

It could take several months for the whales to decompose to skeletons, a DoC spokeswoman said.


Although most of the 300 dead whales are on the shore, others have drifted out to sea.

Currents could carry carcasses to as far away as the lower North Island and they may wash up on beaches in Golden and Tasman Bays, the spokeswoman said.

DoC asks anyone who sees a dead whale wash up to report it to its 24-hour helpline: 0800 36 24 68.

At present, the carcasses are on a part of the spit that the public can access, but DoC has closed that section of beach because of fears the carcasses could explode, posing a health and safety risk.

But before they move them, staff will have to poke holes in the dead whales' stomachs to let the built-up gases escape.

"They do swell up and as they swell up they tend to pop," DoC's Takaka operations manager Andrew Lamason said.

"It's not going to be a fun job."

Lamason said the whales that survived and were refloated during the weekend appeared to have left the area for deeper waters; good news for the rescuers who spent much of their weekend caring for the stranded marine mammals.

They were last seen late last night about 6km from shore, swimming towards Separation Point, a DoC spokeswoman said.

No whales were stranded when DoC inspected the beach this morning.

Strong offshore winds and low cloud causing poor visibility prevented conservation workers from using a boat or plane to look further out for the animals.