One of the dead whales had been cordoned off.
© LEIGH-ANN WIIG
One of the dead whales had been cordoned off.
The seven whales that survived a grounding at the Matarangi Spit have been shepherded out of the Matarangi Harbour by boats across the bar and out to sea.

A spokesperson from the Department of Conservation said the whales "were seen swimming strongly and being active and it's hoped they will remain at sea."

DOC staff are burying the four dead whales above the high tide mark at Matarangi together with local iwi who have worked closely with DOC staff in managing the stranding and refloat.

"We're asking people in the area to keep an eye out for the refloated whales possibly re-stranding in the next 24 hours or so. If people see any stranded whales please contact DOC's 24-hour number 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)," the spokesperson said.

They also expressed thanks to everybody that has helped with the whales on the beach and in successfully refloating them this afternoon.


An aerial view of efforts to refloat the pilot whales that were found on the Matarangi Spit on Saturday.
© MALCOLM ARCHBOLD
An aerial view of efforts to refloat the pilot whales that were found on the Matarangi Spit on Saturday.
Earlier, DOC had said seven of the pilot whales stranded on Saturday morning at the Matarangi Spit are being escorted by boats out towards open sea.

"Hopefully the whales will make their way safely out to sea," a Department of Conservation spokesperson said.

Four whales that died in the stranding are being buried above the high tide mark at Matarangi.

Attempts had been ongoing to move the surviving pod out of the estuary.

The pod became stuck at Matarangi Spit on Saturday and 1000 people, including locals and Department of Conservation staff had been working for hours to rescue them.

On Saturday afternoon a DOC spokesperson said seven whales had been refloated "but the whales have swum into the estuary".

"Four boats are trying to herd the whales out to sea."

A digger has been called into service at the Matarangi Spit whale stranding.
© RO HARRIS
A digger has been called into service at the Matarangi Spit whale stranding.
Two calves were among the group, one of which is also among the deceased.

"DOC staff are leading the stranding response and there are around 1000 people who've come to help with the whales," the spokesperson said.

"At the moment the surviving whales are being cared for on the sand by volunteers who are keeping them comfortable, covering them with sheets with buckets of seawater being gently poured over them to help protect their skin from drying and to keep them cool."

Locals working at the scene of the whale stranding
© RO HARRIS
Locals working at the scene of the whale stranding
High tide is due around 2.30pm.

"We do not need more people to assist with the whales. We have plenty of help which we appreciate."

The police, rural fire brigade members and harbourmaster are on site also assisting with managing the event and large number of people.

DOC also said further updates would be unlikely until early this afternoon when the refloating attempt begins.

Stuff spoke to local man Scott Harris from the scene who said "most of the community is down here at the moment, pitching in".

He said he had been on the scene since around 9am and they were keeping the whales wet and digging tranches.

Project Jonah's Facebook page said their staff were also on the scene.