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More than 40 long-finned pilot whales were refloated on Monday from the base of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
DOC Rangers and about 50 volunteers started searching for the whales on the coast at first light on Tuesday and the pod was found around 7am.
There were 28 live whales and rangers, Project Jonah marine mammal medics and other volunteers have been working to refloat them.
About 21 whales had died.
Local DOC ranger Andrew Lamason who is coordinating the operation said the teams had been herding the whales into deeper water.
"The word coming back from down there is the whales are quite languid, they're not making any great effort to swim off and it's looking like we're probably going into another dry phase of looking after them as they restrand at the same location."
"But it's not looking like that's going to play out," Lamason said.
"I don't think we're looking at any Hollywood ending here.
"The fact that they stayed in the same position overnight, they haven't really moved off, we've got to be realistic about it.
"As the hours go by the prognosis gets worse."
Farewell Spit has been a frequent site of whale strandings.
The last mass pilot whale stranding on Farewell Spit was in February 2017 when an estimated 600-700 whales were beached.
About 250 died while the rest were refloated