Department of Conservation (DoC) staff, Project Jonah volunteers and at least 300 tourists and locals descended on the beach in a bid to refloat the animals. However, more than half restranded, many of them dying on the beach that night.
Rescue teams arrived from Northland, Auckland and Wellington, and were shocked by the condition of the 69 surviving whales at first light on Saturday. In some other strandings, volunteers have been able to keep the whales cool and wet overnight. However, due to safety concerns stemming from the terrain at Farewell Spit, DoC would not allow people to stay overnight. So by morning the animals were stressed, overheated and suffering wind burn.
With the surrounding wetland reserve making it impossible to use heavy machinery, rescuers had to rely on 'people power' to move the whales.
In the end, 67 of the 69 whales still alive at dawn on Saturday made it back out to sea.