Story highlights

Pilot whales have been stranded on remote New Zealand beach since Friday

More than 100 have died

CNN  — 

Scores of whales stranded on a remote New Zealand beach got back in the water, only to return to land – leaving more than 100 of them dead and conservationists racing to save those clinging to life.

Nearly 200 whales were beached Friday in Farewell Spit on New Zealand’s South Island.

Scores got back in the water, only to return to land – leaving more than 100 dead.

When it first happened, conservationists – 140 trained volunteers in the Golden Bay area as well as experts from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation – rushed to water down the giant mammals, cover them and ideally refloat them back into the water.

“Refloating stranded whales is a difficult and potentially dangerous job,” Andrew Lamason, the department’s services manager for Golden Bay, said Friday.

The stranding of large sea mammals – something that usually happens naturally – is nothing new to New Zealand, where the Department of Conservation responds, on average, to 85 such incidents a year.

But most of the time, it’s just one or two whales or dolphins. Mass strandings are rare, especially on the scale of what’s happening around Golden Bay.

CNN’s Greg Botelho, Jethro Mullen and Mitra Mobasherat contributed to this report.