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A spokeswoman told the Herald it was not clear yet whether the whales had re-stranded or if they were different whales to the more than 400 which beached yesterday in one of the country's worst ever mass strandings.

In February 2015 nearly 200 pilot whales beached at Farewell Spit, New Zealand's most notorious "whale trap".

One more recent theory as to why some mass strandings happen, put forward by NASA, is that solar storms might trigger strandings by interfering with terrestrial magnetic fields that whales depend on for navigation.

Rescuers' hopes that whales stranded on Farewell Spit would refloat on the overnight high tide have been dashed, with about a hundred still beached at first light.

Volunteer rescue group Project Jonah said a total of 416 whales had been stranded.

Rescue workers and volunteers said 250 to 300 of the whales died after being stranded on the sand for half a day. "It's always a bit grim, especially this number", said Mike Ogle, a ranger from the Department of Conservation. Workers attempted to keep the animals wet and calm with towels, sheets, and buckets. Project Jonah noted that if one or two whales become stranded, they will send out distress signals and the species' "strong social bonds" will encourage the rest of the pod to come help.

People on Twitter shared their sadness over the beaching and gratitude for volunteers.

This is the third-largest whale stranding in New Zealand on record since the 1800s.

There was only one opportunity on Friday to float the whales at high tide, as no work will be done overnight due to the risk to people.

The incident was New Zealand's largest known whale stranding since 1985 when 450 were stranded in Auckland.

Mass whale beachings are not an uncommon occurrence at Farewell Spit. The situation will be checked early on Saturday morning to establish if the whales have restranded or not, the press release reads.

Hundreds of the whales were unable to be saved.

"We managed to float quite a few whales off and there were an very bad lot of dead ones in the shallows so it was really, really sad", Wiles said.

Murray said because the high tide was at dark, volunteers would leave for their safety.