'It's not a nice thing to have to do' - DOC begins grim task of dealing with 300 dead whales

Now that the adrenaline of the rescue is over, a whole new kind of hard work begins.

The Department of Conservation now faces the challenge of what to do with over 300 dead and decomposing whales.

It's a grim task.

Strandings are so common here in Golden Bay that there's a whale burial ground right on the spit.

The Department of Conservation is tasked with dealing with hundreds of whale carcasses at the top of the South Island. Source: Breakfast

But this stranding has left so many dead whales that the normal process won't do.

The burial ground is around five kilometres from where the dead whales sit, and with most of the whales weighing around a ton, trucks can only fit four to six at a time.

This makes shifting them there an almost endless mission.

Instead, DOC is planning to build a fence around the whales, cover them with netting and let nature take its course.

Even that will take days, DOC ranger Debbie Neale says.

A pod of 17 whales refloated at Farewell Spit this morning now appear headed towards the safety of Cook Strait. Source: 1 NEWS

Because of the risk of explosion as gases build up inside the whales, one of the worst parts of the job is "gassing" the whales - cutting holes in their decomposing bodies to let the gas out.

Debbie's been a ranger for 16 years, but she's never seen a stranding like this.

"It's not a nice thing to have to do," she sighs.

Debbie's not the typical figure one would imagine would be out popping the bodies of dead and decomposing whales.

She's a small woman in her late 50s, with a soft voice and gentle eyes.

I ask her how she deals with it.

"You've just got to go into automatic pilot at this stage," she says.

Rotorua's Timoti Bramley performed a karakia, saying it was important to him because of the spiritual and ancestral connection he has to the whales. Source: 1 NEWS

"It's upsetting but you're running on adrenaline the whole time."

I ask how, as a person so invested in the protection of animals, she feels dealing with so many dead ones.

"It's the cleaning up mechanism and we all just have to do it," she says.

DOC staff have the awful job of moving and burying the mammals so they don't get taken back out to sea. Source: 1 NEWS

"At this point the emotions have all gone and it's just down to business and getting it all sorted."

Around 300 whales could be left to decompose in the marine environment, instead of being allowed to drift out to sea. Source: Breakfast