Pilot whales that stranded in the Coromandel have been refloated and locals on boats and a jetski have herded the animals out to sea.

At least 11 pilot whales stranded on Matarangi Spit early this morning, and about 1000 people rushed to try and save them.

Four died but seven were refloated when the tide came in and shortly before 1pm.

Whale Stranding Matarangi

A pod of Short Fin Pilot whales stranded in Matarangi today, and I was priviledged to be able to help rescue 7 of them.

Posted by JetFish TV on Friday, 3 January 2020

Kirk Davies - JetFish TV

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"The seven surviving pilot whales have been shepherded out of the Matarangi harbour by boats and across the bar out to sea," a DOC spokesperson said. "They were seen swimming strongly and being active and it's hoped they will remain at sea."

DOC staff are burying the four dead whales above the high tide mark at Matarangi together with local iwi who have worked closely with DOC staff in managing the stranding and refloat.

The rescue effort was live-streamed on Facebook, with rescuers nicknaming some of the whales Little Wally, Big Barry and Wendy.

Earlier, locals and holidaymakers rushed to the scene with blankets and buckets of water, and channels were dug in the sand in preparation for refloating.

About 1000 people helped with the rescue efforts. Photo / Malcolm Archbold
About 1000 people helped with the rescue efforts. Photo / Malcolm Archbold
DoC estimated there were a thousand people assisting on the beach and have said they don't require any more help. Photo / David Campbell
DoC estimated there were a thousand people assisting on the beach and have said they don't require any more help. Photo / David Campbell

Department of Conservation staff led the response, with about 1000 people turning up to help, including by covering the whales with sheets and pouring buckets of seawater over them.

People flocked to the beach to offer assistance when they were alerted to the stranded pod of whales. Photo / David Campbell
People flocked to the beach to offer assistance when they were alerted to the stranded pod of whales. Photo / David Campbell
Locals and holidaymakers have rushed to help the whales that are still alive. Photo / Katie Holland
Locals and holidaymakers have rushed to help the whales that are still alive. Photo / Katie Holland

Police, rural fire brigade members and the harbourmaster also helped out.

Earlier today, Daren Grover, general manager of the charity Project Jonah, said care needed to be taken around the animals. People should avoid going anywhere near the animal's tails, and not try to move them or drag them towards the water.

"Our concerns are to ensure that people do the right thing around the animals that have survived - we believe at least several of them are still alive, We have some trained volunteer medics who are on the road there.

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People work to save the remaining whales as a dead whale lies on the beach following the stranding. Photo / David Campbell
People work to save the remaining whales as a dead whale lies on the beach following the stranding. Photo / David Campbell
The scene on Matarangi Spit. Photo / Megan Norcross
The scene on Matarangi Spit. Photo / Megan Norcross

"We have a few watch words that we ask people to consider, and that is to keep them cool, to help them be comfortable and to work calmly around them...keep any small, yappy dogs away, and we don't want any toddlers or children in amongst the whales because it can be unsafe.

"These are highly-stressed animals out of their natural environment. Please respect the whales and any instructions you are given by authorities on the beach, it will give these animals the best chance of surviving."

Grover said pilot whales and dolphins were "pretty robust species" that could survive for as long as several days on the beach.

Department of Conservation staff are on the scene. Photo / Megan Norcross
Department of Conservation staff are on the scene. Photo / Megan Norcross

"That's not to say there might be an underlying issue like an illness...we will be responding as if our opportunity is to refloat them this afternoon."

More species came closer to shore at this time of year, Grover said, including pilot whales. They may have been caught out by tides, including when chasing prey or fleeing predators themselves.

"It could simply be that one or two in the pod are old, and if they are old they want to take their last few breaths without struggle so they come up on the beach, but they have a strong herding instinct that will kick in and lead to events happening like this one this morning."

Some of the whales have not survived. Photo / Megan Norcross
Some of the whales have not survived. Photo / Megan Norcross