More than 120 whales died over 48 hours in two separate beachings, the Department of Conservation says.
More than 20 pilot whales will be buried by Coromandel Maori today after dying when they became stranded yesterday.
Sixty-three whales, mostly cows with calves, beached themselves at Colville Bay, north of Coromandel township.
The 3-4 metre whales were seen by fishermen struggling about 300m offshore around 6am and they called emergency services.
About two thirds were saved by determined locals and holidaymakers who kept the surviving whales wet in the low tide until it rose in the early afternoon and they could be refloated.
DOC spokeswoman for the area, Lyn Williams, said none of those whales had returned to the beach overnight.
"Last they were seen they were swimming healthily out to the ocean," she said.
One of the cows even gave birth to a calf almost immediately after being refloated, she said.
DOC senior adviser Mike Donoghue said the bay was a typical place for whales to become disoriented.
"It is shallow, sloping and sandy. Their sonar would have shattered in the sand and had a weak signal return," he told the New Zealand Herald.
The 21 dead whales were being watched over last night by local iwi Ngati Tamatera before a burial ceremony today.
Security was required as some local fishermen were keen to remove the whale meat and teeth.
Iwi member David Hamon said local Maori would place the whales in graves at the northern end of the bay.
"It's a sad moment. Maori have a strong, strong connection with whales. We treat them as we would our dead on the marae. You don't leave your dead by themselves."
Meanwhile, 105 long-finned pilot whales died at Farewell Spit at the top of the South Island on Saturday.
DOC Golden Bay biodiversity programme manager Hans Stoffregen told The Southland Times none of the stranded pod survived.
They were discovered by a tourist plane pilot and reported to Nelson air traffic control, which contacted DOC.
Only 30 were alive when DOC arrived and all of the adults were dead, he said.
"They were in bad shape. By the time we got there two-thirds of them had already died. We had to euthanise the rest."
The whales had been there for a couple of tides and had been out of the water for a long time.
"It has been quite hot and they were very distressed. You could see the pain and suffering in their eyes."
Because the site was in a natural reserve, the whale carcasses were left where they stranded, to decompose, Mr Stoffregen said.
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