A large pod of pilot whales at risk of becoming beached are now swimming in deeper seas under the escort of two boats.
Four adult whales from the pod died after being stranded on Ruakaka Beach in Northland early this morning.
A Department of Conservation spokesperson, Abi Monteith, said boats are still shepherding the whales to ensure they do not turn back to shore.
"Pilot whales are really tricky to predict their behaviour so there's a possibility that the pod may split and strand in multiple places or they may stay together and continue swimming so we're doing our very best to monitor where they are," Ms Monteith said.
She added that the volunteer effort has been called off now the pod is out at sea.
Whale protection group Project Jonah received reports last night of a pod of pilot whales close to shore in Mangawhai.
The pod swam north and were stranded.
The Department of Conservation confirmed that four have died.
Two boats were in the water off Ruakaka Beach this morning to try to stop the rest of the pod of whales beaching.
Project Jonah spokesperson Louisa Hawkes said an estimated 60 whales were in the water and if the pod separated, the boats would not be enough.
Ms Hawkes says if needed they will get people gathered on the beach to splash in the water and stop the whales stranding.
She says it was hard to predict pilot whales' behaviour and they could strand in several places.
School children and iwi members are among almost 400 people gathered on Ruakaka Beach.
Ms Monteith said three of the whales died overnight and they worked hard to save the fourth which died this morning.
She said it was a sombre feeling on the beach as the local iwi did a karakia for the whales.
"It's very sad. People were here to try and save the remaining whale and unfortunately, it's passed away and all four deceased whales are on the beach. There's a lot of crying, a lot of really sombre people and obviously the concern that other whales may come to shore is on everybody's mind as well."
Ms Monteith said there were boats and planes to try to prevent the whales from coming ashore.
"We are concerned about the remaining pilot whales who are still fairly close to shore and we are monitoring that situation to try and prevent them coming to shore as much as we can."