SANYA, Hainan – Tourists abused an injured dolphin that was beached in south China on Sunday, resulting in the animal’s death as well as a wave of public outrage.
The dolphin, which had sustained an injury to its tail fin, was found stranded on the beach of the Dadonghai resort complex in Sanya, Hainan Province, on Sunday evening, and tourists lifted it out of the water so they could take pictures with it.
“The dolphin was surrounded by the tourists who found it. Some of them touched it, and some held the animal to pose with it in photos,” said Chen Zhongcheng, head of the lifeguard team of Dadonghai Tourism Management Co., Ltd.
Upon realizing what was happening, two lifeguards rushed to disperse the crowd of tourists, while others called the oceanic bureau, said Chen.
“We tried to send the dolphin to the deeper water, but it just kept swimming back,” he recalled, adding that the lifeguards later held it in the water to protect it from further injury.
“It was still alive when I saw it,” according to a witness surnamed He.
The witness also said he saw some tourists asking the lifeguards for permission to have their photos taken with the dolphin.
Workers with the city’s fishery authority arrived at the scene around 7 p.m.
Lifeguards had surrounded the dolphin to protect it by the time the fishery authorities arrived to take the animal to a salt water pool for treatment. Despite their efforts, the dolphin died around 11 p.m. on Sunday.
Photos of the tourists holding the dolphin and posing with it were posted to the Twitter-like Sina Weibo and later went viral.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 83,000 comments had been posted with the trending hashtag, “Leave the dolphin alone, please.”
“I feel very sad. The dolphin died just because of the human beings. Please cherish every creature,” one Weibo user commented.
Others called for an animal protection law that would safeguard the rights of non-protected species. “They should pay for disrepecting life, sooner or later,” a user wrote.
“The key problem is people’s lack of conscience. Ignorant. They are so indifferent to life. All they care about is themselves,” another user posted.
Jiang Hua, the curator of the provincial spiral shell and shellfish museum who joined efforts to treat the dolphin, said an autopsy showed that the animal died from having water in its lung.
Jiang said that as a mammal, a dolphin could drown if the respiratory tract in its fin filled with water.
“Tourists who knew little about dolphins may have never expected it would die when they lifted it and threw it back into the water again,” he said.
Jiang said the camera flashes may also have affected the dolphin’s ability to see, sending it into a state of panic.
Excessive blood loss from the injured fin also contributed to its death, he said.
While wildlife protection activists have called on the public to refrain from touching wild animals, experts believe that a shortage of professional assistance was another factor in the dolphin’s death.
According to an official surnamed Ding with the fishery department of Sanya, there is no professional oceanic wildlife rescue station in the city, so they had to turn to other cities for help.
“Professional rescuers did not arrive until after the dolphin died,” he said, speculating that it may have been injured by a fishing boat.
“If dolphins that are hit by fishing boats do not receive professional help, their chances for survival are slim,” Ding said.