An endangered baby dolphin was killed on a beach in Argentina last week after the animal was plucked from the water and passed around by beachgoers for petting and photos.
The incident, which took place at the beach resort town of Santa Teresita, has drawn wide condemnation from animal lovers and activists, including the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which released a statement urging people to return dolphins encountered near the shore to ocean waters.
La Plata dolphins — also known as Franciscana dolphins — are only found in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and fewer than 30,000 of them remain in the wild, the foundation said. The only type of river dolphin to inhabit saltwater, Franciscana dolphins are categorized as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The IUNC notes that the main threats to the dolphins are gill nets, which are known to drown, injure or attach to marine mammals, causing extreme fatigue, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But as it turns out, curious swimmers and other beachgoers are also a top threat.
Video footage of last week’s incident shows the animal being scooped up by a man and quickly surrounded by a curious mob eager to touch the animal.
The miniature dolphin, no more than a few feet long, is eventually left to die in the mud, where it can be seen lying motionless.
At no point in the footage does it appear that anyone in the crowd intervened or attempted to return the animal to the water.
“The potential for recovery of this species is very low,” the AWF said. “The Franciscan, like other dolphins, can not long remain above water. It has a very thick and greasy skin that provides warmth, so the weather will quickly cause dehydration and death.”
NOAA describes La Plata dolphins as “extremely shy and evasive by nature” and notes that what little is known about them is “surrounded by superstition.”
With video and photos of the animal’s death circulating online, the reaction has been furious.
The AWF asked the public to use the animal’s tragic death as a reminder about the dolphin's dwindling numbers.
“This incident should serve to remind people about he need to return these dolphins to the sea if one is found outside of the water,” the foundation's statement said. “It’s fundamental that people help rescue these animals because every Franciscan has value.”