It was a frantic effort, with locals spending hours in the ocean to try and save the large, stranded pod.
“It was tough. It was literally one of the toughest things I have done in my adult life,” Māhia resident Shannon Rogers told Newshub.
“You don’t realise how much strength you actually need to pull these beasts back into the water.”
Rogers was one of the first people to arrive at the beach.
“Initially we were completely outnumbered, there were more whales and dolphins than we were able to save,” she said.
“Then, 20 minutes later, there was just a complete rush of people on the beach and there was at least 100 people.”
The 40-odd false killer whales and bottlenose dolphins first stranded before 2pm on Sunday at Taylors Bay.
“They were screaming. It is probably the thing that’s stopping me from sleeping, because you hear this screaming in your ears,” Rogers explained.
“They were making more than a noise, they were yelling out for help.”
It was a mammoth task, but the volunteers were able to refloat them. Although not for long.
“In the end, they restranded further around the point in a remote inaccessible place on a rugged reef,” DoC Tairawhiti operations manager Matt Tong told Newshub.
Tong said when they arrived by boat, the whales were in a distressed state and some had already died.
So, after speaking to local iwi, the decision was made to euthanise the rest. Tong described it as “a really tough decision”.
“Of course we would have loved to refloat them again,” he said.
However, it was the most humane thing to do.
False killer whales are one of the lesser dolphin species, so while some remains will be buried by the local iwi, others will be studied.
“With the tragic event that unfolded, there’s got to be something in the haystack to look for that is a bit of positivity – and we hope a lot more,” Tong said.
Such as why they stranded in the first place.