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They were part of the larger group of around 200 whales that were stranded Saturday, but the 17 re-stranded themselves after those whales were refloated.

Department of Conservation spokesman Andrew Lamason said they were sure they were dealing with a separate pod because they had tagged all the refloated whales from the first group and none of the new group had tags.

Nehe Tapuke says the most memorable thing about the stranded whales on Farewell Spit was the smell.

Another 200 whales which became stranded yesterday were able to refloat themselves overnight without the help of volunteers. Saturday's rescue efforts during the morning high tide appeared more promising.

The precise cause of the whale strandings was not known.

Hundreds of workers ranging from tourists to farmers spent days at the beach, keeping the stranded whales wet and cool with buckets of water and cloths. He said all the surviving whales were refloated, and about 100 volunteers formed a human chain in the water to prevent them from beaching again.

Their quick action has avoided those whales beaching and possibly more of the whales stranding.

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According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the largest recorded stranding was an estimated 1,000 pilot whales on the Chatham Islands, another stranding hotspot, in 1918.

The New Zealand DOC officials are now mapping out plans to dispose carcasses of stranded whales.

Neha Tapuke ended his week-long holiday locked in a heartbreaking battle to help save 400 stricken pilot whales which had stranded at Farewell Spit.

Louisa Hawkes, from the environmental group Project Jonah which has been assisting with the rescue, told them it was only natural they would feel emotionally drained. Majority were among the animals found on Friday and already dead when they were discovered.

The beachings occur in the summer months, according to Gary Riordan, who is 62 and has lived in the area for most of his life.

This picture taken on February 11, 2017 shows a volunteer caring for a pilot whale during a mass stranding at Farewell Spit.

Stressing the difficulty of preventing whales from stranding themselves, she added that "if they start to move towards shore. sometimes we can get people in the water to try and deter them".