Holidaymakers have denied pulling a live dolphin from the sea in order to pose for selfies with it. The animal reportedly died after being passed around the crowd in Argentina.
Two rare Franciscana dolphins, one of the smallest breeds, were said to have been seized by beach-goers after washing up in the surf at the Santa Teresita resort in Buenos Aires.
Photos show throngs of tourists crowding round a dolphin as it is passed around for them to touch and hold. One video shows a man carrying one of them in his arms.
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The lifeless body of a Franciscana dolphin was later found on the sand, apparently abandoned. The fate of the other animal is unclear.
However, one of the tourists who posted photos has told national news channel Telefe Noticias his pictures had been misinterpreted and the animal was dead before the crowd handled it.
"It washed up already dead. They took it back to the water but it wouldn't go back out," said Hernan Coria. He added that several other dead dolphins had washed up on nearby beaches.
Wildlife experts and conservationists have expressed horror and disgust over the incident.
"The Franciscan, like other species, cannot remain out of the water for long," conservation charity Vida Silvestre said. "Hot weather will cause rapid dehydration and death."
The group urged anyone who spots a stranded dolphin to act responsibly. "It is vital that people help to rescue these animals, because every Franciscana counts," it said, telling people to contact marine specialists immediately upon finding a dolphin and then attempt to keep the animal cool until the experts arrive.
The Franciscana dolphin, so called because its brownish skin recalls the habit of a Franciscan monk, is classified as "vulnerable" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Only an estimated 30,000 remain in the wild, the BBC reports, and the species is at particular risk of becoming tangled in fishing nets because of its distribution along the busy waters around Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Between 500 and 800 are caught that way every year in the waters around Buenos Aires alone.
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