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Rare Dolphin Dies After Beach Dwellers Pull It From the Water To Take Selfies

Feb 18, 2016 05:45 PM EST

A young Franciscana dolphin died after a vacationer pulled it from the water so he and other beach dwellers in Santa Terisita, Argentina, could take selfies, touch and cuddle it. The tragic incident has raised concern among conservationists and animal activists about the publics' mishandling of wild animals.

"This is more than upsetting," Lori Marino, executive director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It is an indictment of how our species treats other animals – as objects for our benefit, as props, as things with value only in relation to us. This is a terribly painful story but it goes on, writ large, every day all over the world." 

Video footage of the incident shows the animal being scooped up by a man and passed around for petting and photos. The small dolphin, no more than a few feet long, was then left to die in the mud, where it can be seen lying motionless. Following the dolphin's death, the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (AWF) released a statement urging people to return dolphins encountered near the shore to ocean waters.

Franciscana dolphins, also known as La Plata dolphins, are one of the smallest dolphin species in the world, measuring only four to six feet long and weighing up to 115 pounds. They are also characterized by a brownish color. (Scroll to read more...)

Found only in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, Franciscana dolphins are a rare breed indeed: it is estimated that roughly 30,000 exist in the wild. As a result the animals are listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Sadly, at no point in the video does it appear that anyone in the crowd suggested returning the animal to the water.

"The potential for recovery of this species is very low," the AWF wrote. "The Franciscan, like other dolphins, cannot long remain above water. It has a very thick and greasy skin that provides warmth, so the weather will quickly cause dehydration and death."

Since dolphins are mammals that breathe air most people assume the animals can survive when held out of the water – but this is not the case. In addition to their skin drying out, they can also overheat because they cannot regulate body temperature. Experts say this is what likely killed the baby dolphin in Argentina.  

Dolphins, porpoises and whales aren't designed to support their own weight outside of buoyant water. When they are stranded on land or held up as these human did, their rib cages can collapse, causing serious organ damage. The stress that results being pulled out of the water and manhandled is enough to cause cardiac arrest, as is frequently the case when animals are captured in the wild

Experts suggest the best way to handle a beached animal is to alert the proper authorities and try to keep the animal floating in water so that its skin remains wet. Humans should also refrain from excessive touching or petting, which can cause anatomical damage and transmit disease to the animal. 

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