(OCEANS/ENDANGERED SPECIES) A seemingly fun and harmless photo op took a turn for the worse last week after an endangered baby dolphin was killed on a beach in Argentina.

Buenos Aires beachgoers were seen along the shores of Santa Teresita pulling a couple of baby Franciscan dolphins–also known as La Plata dolphins–from the water and passing them around for petting and taking photographs, or “selfies.”

A rare baby dolphin was killed in Argentina after it was pulled out of the water for photos. Photo Credit: Hernan Coria
A rare baby dolphin died in Argentina after being pulled from the water for tourists’ photo ops. Photo Credit: Hernan Coria

Video footage (below) shows a man taking the baby dolphin out of the water, drawing a curious crowd eager to touch and take pictures of the animal.

With little to no protection from the sun, the miniature dolphin–no more than a few feet long–quickly overheated and died while out of the water.

Seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the animals’ dismay, tourists continued to pass around the animal even after its death, eventually discarding the body in the sand.

With video and photos of the animal’s death circulating online, the incident has drawn widespread backlash from animal lovers and activists including Argentina’s partner with the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF), Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina–or the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

The organization is urging the public to use the tragic death as a reminder about the species’ extreme vulnerability and dwindling numbers.

“The potential for recovery of this species is very low, AWF said. “The Franciscana, like other species, cannot remain for much time outside of the water, it has thick fatty skin which gives it heat and means that taking it out of the water rapidly causes it to dehydrate and die.”

The dolphin was left on the sand after it died
The lifeless dolphin was carelessly left in the sand.

“This occasion serves to inform the public about the urgent necessity to return these dolphins to the sea as soon as possible if they find them on the shore.

“It is fundamental that people help to rescue these animals, because every Franciscana counts now.”

With less than 30,000 of them remaining in the wild, this particular species of dolphin can only be found in three South American countries: Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.

The only type of river dolphin to inhabit saltwater, the Franciscana dolphin is also categorized as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUNC claims the species’ main threats are gill nets, but as it turns out, beachgoing toursists are also a significant reason for concern.

An AWF representative said in a statement:

“This terribly unfortunate event is an example of the casual cruelty people can inflict when they use animals for entertainment purposes, without thinking of the animal’s needs.”

“At least one of these dolphins suffered a horrific, traumatic, and utterly unnecessary death, for the sake of a few photographs. Wild animals are not toys or photo props.”

— Alisa Manzelli, exclusive to Global Animal