Rescuers will today attempt to refloat eight surviving pygmy whales at a Far North beach 20km away and on the opposite coast from where they stranded two days earlier.
The pygmy killer whales, actually a rare type of oceanic dolphin, were discovered along a 6km stretch of Ninety Mile Beach between Te Paki Stream and The Bluff on Sunday evening.
Two had to be euthanised but rescuers saved the rest by turning them upright, moving them above the high-tide mark, and keeping them cool and wet.
Department of Conservation spokeswoman Abigail Monteith said the pygmy whales were transported late on Monday on trailers via State Highway 1 to Rarawa Beach on the east coast, a distance of about 20km.
They would be kept in a stream overnight to relieve the pressure on their bodies from being on the beach since Sunday night.
They would be moved to the beach this morning and, if all went to plan, refloated at high tide around noon.
The chances of successfully refloating the animals was much higher at Rarawa than on Ninety Mile Beach, where the seas were rough with a 1.5m swell.
The risk of moving the pygmy whales was more than outweighed by their better chance of survival at Rarawa Beach, she said.
However, DoC would need help and was calling for volunteers to report to the Rarawa campground check-in area from 6am today. Helpers were asked to bring a wetsuit, a change of warm clothing, a sunhat and sunblock, and plenty of food and drink. Extra sheets, shovels and buckets could also be needed.
Volunteers without wetsuits could help look after the whales on shore before the refloat attempt.
Among those helping near The Bluff on Monday was Awanui man Aaron Kem.
He arrived about 8am and helped calm a whale nicknamed Lucy Liu, which was initially thrashing its tail and ''making barking noises".
"They said it's formed a bond with me," he said.
Expert Jo ''Floppy'' Halliday said it was extremely unusual to find pygmy killer whales in New Zealand waters and was at a loss why they had stranded.
It was possible one had got into trouble and the rest of the pod had followed it inshore. The king high tide, which also complicated the rescue, could have confused the whales' sonar, she said.
The rescue has been led by DoC's Kaitaia office with help from Whale Rescue, Project Jonah, iwi and local volunteers.
It is the first time DoC has attempted a coast-to-coast transfer of stranded marine mammals in Northland since 24 pilot whales were transported 50km from Spirits Bay to Rarawa Beach in 2010. Fourteen eventually made it out to sea.
The rescue stretched DoC's resources in the Far North because it came just days after a 15m, 30-tonne sperm whale stranded at Tokerau Beach, on the Karikari Peninsula, on Friday.
The whale later died and was pulled further up the beach where local hapū Te Whānau Rorohita and Te Whānau Moana are continuing the process of flensing, or removing flesh from the bones. The whale has been named Tokarau.
A rāhui is in place on the beach from Waiporohita to Waipakaru streams. A decision had yet to be made yesterday on where its remains would be buried.
Samples were taken in a bid to determine the cause of death, including whether ingesting plastic may have played a part.
— additional reporting by Lindy Laird