Three pilot whales stranded on Ninety Mile Beach were buried together in a Far North cemetery dedicated solely to sea life.
A massive rescue effort took place on Tuesday afternoon that lasted until sunset after five whales were discovered marooned on the shores of the west coast beach.
The Department of Conservation (DoC) on Wednesday confirmed there had been four pilot whales and a sperm whale.
Ahipara kaitiaki (guardian) and Ahipara Takiwa komiti member Patau Tepania said three pilot whales had been buried together after they became stranded again.
On the night of their rescue, the whales had been found a few kilometres apart - the last close to Waipapakauri Ramp.
“The first one was dead on arrival,” Tepania said.
But the other two were refloated by locals using a tractor.
“The conditions weren’t right.”
Both for the whales and the locals, Tepania said, as the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle were still lingering.
“Thankfully nobody was hurt,” he said.
Roads severed by the storm prevented DOC and police from reaching the stranding site.
But Tepania said Ahipara kaitiaki had liaised with the authorities as the event unfolded.
After the first whale was refloated, locals “bolted” to the second near Waipapakauri.
“There was a massive group of people trying their hardest but by then the situation was more dangerous as it was dark.
“People were really upset by what was happening,” Tepania said.
A plan was made to return first thing in the morning and that is when they learned three whales had died.
Ahipara kaitiaki oversaw the first two whales, Tepania said, and Ngai Takoto the third by Waipapakauri.
However, a discussion about how the taonga and tūpuna that had landed on the shores should not be separated soon confirmed the trio would be reunited.
The three whales were buried in the cemetery dedicated to “all sea life”.
“We need to protect these taonga,” Tepania said.
Tepanaia said they followed the agreed karakia and burial process, which brought peace to the different groups.
“Even though everyone went away happy with the process there were no happy emotions, just sad emotions at the end of the day about these taonga.”
The Advocate has contacted DoC seeking further details, especially regarding the fate of the two remaining whales.