The Department of Conservation told ONE News that it was first alerted about a beaching at 9am, and when volunteers arrived to rescue a second whale, they discovered 28 stranded on the beach.
Twelve whales died in the first hour and DOC staff said the unusually high death rate and the fact that the next high tide is not until tomorrow lunch time forced them to make the decision, along with local iwi and Project Jonah volunteers, to euthanise the rest of the stranded whales.
Staff used a high-calibre rifle to euthanise the whales and this process was carried out this afternoon.
“It’s really sad and not a situation we take lightly but anything else is inhumane and would prolong their suffering,” DOC biodiversity manager Hans Stoffregen said.
“They don’t look that flash so putting them all through another two days of this is inhumane.”
The pod was lying almost amongst the driftwood and the next high tide at midnight probably would not reach them, he said.
The whales will be left on the beach to be savaged and rot.
Stoffregen said it would possible more whales might also come in, and he asked anyone seeing more whales out at sea or beached to contact DOC.
This stranding is said to be earlier than usual, with the main season for whale strandings from around the end of the year through until March, he said.
Whale strandings are not uncommon in Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island.
A pod of 99 pilot whales stranded at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay in January. Many died while more than 90 volunteers worked to refloat others.
Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster says the geography of Golden Bay is confusing for whales and they often end up stranded again after being refloated.