MOJACAR, Spain – A baby dolphin separated from its mother died after "hundreds" of people passed it around, taking photos and playing with it in the shallow water off a busy Spanish beach Friday, according to local nonprofit marine rescue group Equinac.
Pictures show bathers lifting the "frightened and weak" calf out of the water and stroking the dolphin – one child appears to inadvertently cover its blowhole with his hand.
"Cetaceans (large marine mammals including whales, dolphins and porpoises) are animals very susceptible to stress and ... crowding them to take pictures and touch them causes a very strong shock that greatly accelerates a cardiorespiratory failure, which is what finally happened," Equinac posted on Facebook.
A concerned beachgoer called 112, Spain's emergency telephone number, and Equinac said they got to the beach in 15 minutes, but the dolphin was already dead.
"The calf ended up at the beach after becoming sick or losing its mother, without which it can't survive, but after being crowded by those who wanted to touch and photograph it, of course the animal became highly stressed."
Equinac reminded people that disturbing a protected dolphin could result in criminal charges under Spain's tight laws regarding wildlife.
The group also posted this strongly-worded statement on Facebook:
"There are many who are unable to feel empathy for a living being alone, scared, starving, without their mother and terrified. In your selfishness, all you want is to photograph and touch it, even if the animal suffers."