A total of 49 whales came ashore Saturday near Farewell Spit in the second major stranding in the area within two weeks. Eight died on the beaches, and the remaining animals were shot when heavy seas prevented any attempt to refloat them.
"Given the hopelessness of being able to successfully refloat the whales, our prime concern was then to avoid the whales' suffering a long and painful death," Greg Napp, the department's Golden Bay area officer, said in a statement.
Napp said the latest stranding was likely unconnected to another last month when 129 pilot whales came ashore close by.
Conservation officers and volunteers managed to refloat more than 100 in that stranding, but 21 whales died.
Mike Rogers, a Department of Conservation worker, said the whales that beached Saturday were not thought to be from the pod involved in the larger stranding on Dec. 20.
"There have always been strandings at Golden Bay," he said, noting that the tide goes out as much as four miles and the animals "get trapped on this gentle sloping beach."