Only nine pilot whales, from a pod of about 60, survived after being stranded on Karikari Beach in northern New Zealand. The others were buried on the beach.
The whales beached themselves on Thursday night and volunteers were unable to get them back into the water on Friday. Many volunteers stayed through the night, trying to keep the surviving animals, which weight about 1,500 kilograms, wet and calm.
On Saturday morning they got the survivors into the water, but things still did not go smoothly.
"We had a crack at getting them all out to sea, and four of them were just not comfortable," Patrick Whaley, of the Department of Conservation, told 3news. “They were very disorientated, essentially swimming upside down and struggling to breathe. Three of them restranded so we made the call to euthanise them to give the other guys a chance to get out to sea.”
Maori consider the whales to be kaitiaki, or guardians of the coast.
“We believe that God has given us these animals for us to care for," said Rev. Timoti Flavell of Ngati Kahu, who blessed the land before the whales were buried.
Although it is not known why the animals beached themselves, it is thought that the shallowness of the bay might have confused their sonar.