"It's always a bit grim, especially this number", said Mike Ogle, a ranger from the Department of Conservation.

Those survivors eventually joined another pod, which DOC said was at risk of stranding yesterday. DOC and Project Jonah will know by lunchtime if the refloating goes well or not.

"We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don't really take directions, they go where they want to go", Lamason said.

With pilot whales, which travel in large groups, such events can involve hundreds. They were able to tell this because they had tagged each of the refloated whales so that they could be identified in case they beach themselves again. Not all stranded whales can successfully be refloated. While they are yet to establish a single reason, debates rage on with some people saying they the pods were stuck in the midst of chasing prey.

Although there have been no signs of sharks in the area, the chances of a few lurking in the region are not nil.

Earlier Friday, in a refloating attempt, a human chain was formed as a barrier between the whales and the beach to deter the animals from re-stranding, Inwood told dpa. There was also worry over stingrays.

The tragedy is the third largest beaching in the country's history, but the bay has seen at least nine mass beachings in the past decade alone.

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Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and volunteers reportedly re-floated about 100 whales from the beach at Farwell Spit on Friday morning's high tide but 50 re-stranded themselves.

The huge pod had been seen swimming in Golden Bay that night.

It is feared even more whales could be stranded by sunrise in yet another mass stranding.

A dead pilot whale lies on a sandbank after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings. "That many sentient creatures just wasted on the beach".

In fact, bite marks on the body of one of the whales showed that it had been attacked by what was possibly a shark. But geography could certainly be a factor, considering several known stranding blackspots share characteristics.

"It is cold, it's wet and some of us have been in and out of the water for nine hours now, we can only cope with robust volunteers, not ones that are going to break down, which happens quite often." he said. There will be people who will argue that it's natural.