More than 20 pilot whales have died in a mass beaching in New Zealand while another 43 were successfully herded back to sea, conservation officials say.
About 63 whales were stranded on the Coromandel Peninsula on the east of North Island.
Department of Conservation staff assisted by hundreds of volunteers managed to help most of the whales back out to sea during the afternoon high tide at Colville Bay but a spokesman said 21 died on the beach.
People were working to bury the dead whales when the tide went out, Newstalk ZB reported.
However, there was also a fear the surviving whales might try to return to the beach on the next tide, and conservation workers were to keep an overnight watch on the area.
“Some 63 pilot whales stranded … but it looks pretty good, we’ve got 43 live ones,” Department of Conservation ranger Steve Bolten said as the pod swam out to sea.
Bolten said one of the whales may have been sick, or their sonar may have led them into the shallow harbour and they couldn’t find their way out again.
Camper Deanna Paddy and her family spent hours in the sea helping the whales, “trying to keep them as wet as possible and comfortable”, she told Television New Zealand’s One News.
One of the whales she helped died on the beach. “That’s nature but we’ve still got others to try and help. We’re just going to give them the best chance we can and hope for the best,” she said.
New Zealand has several mass whale strandings around its coastline each summer as they pass by on their way to breeding grounds from Antarctic waters. Scientists so far have been unable to explain why whales become stranded.