It is thought the pod of rare pygmy killer whales stranded on Ninety Mile Beach were driven ashore by orca - the giant species of killer whales.

Eight pygmy killer whales - in fact, a seldom seen oceanic dolphin which bears physical similarities to orca - are stranded on a 5-6 kilometre stretch of beach spanning Te Paki Stream mouth. They were first spotted at about 8.30pm yesterday.

Two others have been found dead.

Sightings and strandings of stranding of the species in New Zealand are rare but they are commonly seen in tropical Pacific waters.

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The small whales were thought to have been racing to escape from orca attacks, with some bearing telltale bite marks. Photo / Project Jonah
The small whales were thought to have been racing to escape from orca attacks, with some bearing telltale bite marks. Photo / Project Jonah

Les Bore, an Ahipara surf school operator who was one of the first people on the scene, said it looked like every whale had been attacked by orca.

They were covered in bite marks and were bleeding, with bloody eyes, Bore said.

"Me and my friend tried to refloat them, successfully getting them back into the water but they couldn't swim properly," he said.

"We tried for two hours but realised they must have internal damage."

Bore believed orca have attacked them, using a method of ramming them to try to break their backs before eating them.

Department of Conservation community ranger Jamie Werner said a king tide of 3.6 metres was causing a "logistical nightmare" for attempts to refloat the pigmy killer whales.

The high mid-day tide is hampering access to the site.

DoC was informed last night of the stranding and a DoC worker was on the beach overnight.

Iwi, a DoC team, Project Jonah volunteers and a rescue team trained by whale stranding expert Dr Ingrid Visser from the Orca Research Trust are at or heading to the scene. Visser is overseas.

It's the second stranding in the Far North in three days after a 15-metre sperm whale died on Tokeroa Beach on Saturday, after washing ashore on Friday.

DoC staff will be stretched as they are also supporting the flensing of the sperm whale.

No further details of the Ninety Mile Beach stranding are available at this stage.