The mass stranding of whales took place yesterday and by this morning 36 had died. The other 40 are in grave danger and a desperate attempt was being made to refloat them in the morning high tide.

Department of Conservation area manager John Mason  said that conservation staff and volunteers from Project Jonah, a local whale conservation society, had successfully refloated 17 whales, which had swum out to deeper water. Another six whales remained unaccounted for.

The 40 beached whales were refloated and swam into shallow water by early Tuesday afternoon but they were stranded again once the tide went out. Tonight volunteers promised to try to keep the animals cool and wet.

It is hoped that the whales will swim away on the high tide tonight.