The crisis began Friday when a pod of 416 whales became stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay on the northwest of the South Island.
DOC area manager Andrew Lamason expressed concerns over the risks of sharks in the water, as the dead whales could be attracting the predators. But only a fraction of the pilot whales that had swum aground on Farewell Spit on the northern tip of New Zealand's south island were successfully moved back into the sea. A lot of them died and rescuers were trying to help surviving ones back into the sea on Saturday.
According to Project Jonah, a whale-rescue group, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and on average around 300 whales and dolphins beach themselves on Kiwi shores every year.
According to reports, part of the reason the rescue attempt was so hard was because they whales "are social animals and want to remain close to their pod, even if majority are now dead".
Volunteer Imogen Harris, 11, said they had just been waiting anxiously all day.
Whale rescuers linked arms in neck-deep water to try to prevent about 200 of the mammals from stranding themselves again in a remote bay.
The reasons for whales strandings are still unclear, but it is thought a combination of factors contribute with old, sick and vulnerable whales being particularly vulnerable.
There are several theories as to why the whales beached in the first place along the shore, which has been described as a whale trap.
In January 2003, a pod of 159 pilot whales were stranded, which half have since died of dehydration. "They also carry diseases, so people need to avoid contact with blowhole exhalent or body fluids", the DOC said.
"The more we understand why the whales beach, the better we can prepare for and mitigate strandings", she says.
"It's a pretty sad scene up on the beach where there's a long line of dead whales", he said.
They then formed a human chain in the water to keep the whales from swimming back and stranding themselves again.
The new pod was comprised of about 240 whales, according to the Associated Press.
Hearing that nearly all of the whales had refloated in the high tide was a great relief, she said.
In 2008, some 100 whales swam onto Madagascar beaches, three-fourths of them dying. Some 500 willing helpers from across the country turned up and tried to get the surviving whales safely away from the coastline.
But that unfortunately did not prevent a fresh pod coming inland on Saturday.
Sometimes described as a whale trap, the long coastline and gently sloping beaches seem to make it hard for whales to navigate away from once they get close.
The Department of Conservation has faced criticism for not reacting quicker to the tragedy.
Other factors include whales' incredibly tight social bonding, which is especially strong within groups of pilot whales.