A volunteer pours water on one of hundreds of stranded whales on Farewell Spit in New Zealand on Feb. 10, 2017.
More than 400 whales swam aground along the remote beach. Some three hundred of them were already dead when they were discovered.
Whales are marked with an 'X' to indicate that they have died.
Hundreds of volunteers flocked to Farewell Spit after dawn broke and surviving whales were re-floated at high tide but 90 quickly became stranded once again as the tide ebbed.
A conservation department worker spotted the whales washed ashore on Thursday evening. But the government agency decided against a night rescue effort because of the risk of accidents.
This was New Zealand's largest known whale stranding since 1985, when 450 were stranded in Auckland, and the third largest on record.
"You could hear the sounds of splashing, of blowholes being cleared, of sighing," Cheree Morrison, a magazine writer and editor told AP. "The young ones were the worst. Crying is the only way to describe it."
Rescuers took turns pouring water over the beached whales to try and keep them cool, while school children sang to soothe the distressed beasts.
Farewell Spit, a sliver of sand that arches like a hook into the Tasman Sea, seems to confuse whales and has been the site of previous mass strandings.