Marine life rescue teams were battling to keep a whale alive today after it was found stranded on a holiday beach.
Astonished walkers came across the stricken mammal at picturesque Castle Beach in Falmouth, Cornwall.
Initial reports suggested it was a dolphin but marine mammal medics identified it as a young pilot whale.
Volunteers formed a human chain to pass buckets of water along the beach to pour over the animal to keep it cool.
The whale was also covered in wet towels and surrounded by a screen to keep it from being startled by the crowds.
Experts from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) are monitoring the animal’s breathing while they wait for a vet to say whether it is healthy enough to be refloated.
However they fear the worst because the whale’s body condition is said to be “poor”.
If the animal is too weak or poorly to be put back into the water, the difficult decision will be made to have it put down.
BDMLR spokeswoman Julia Cable said the 4.1-metre whale was spotted just after 11am.
She said: “The body condition is poor and it has some marks on its body. We are having a vet look at it at the moment.
“We’ve got about 15 volunteer marine mammal medics on scene with specialist equipment.
“They are monitoring its breathing, keeping it damp and trying to minimize the stress of the animal.
“We are in consultation with a vet at the moment and it’s up to the vet to say what the condition is and to decide whether we can attempt to refloat it.
“At the moment I’m not sure if that’s going to be possible. It will survive on the beach for some time but we are not in the business of prolonging an animal’s agony.”
One bystander, who gave her name only as Paula, said: “I saw a lot of towels on the beach and lots of people collecting water and throwing water on a pilot whale.
“We can see his tail moving but other than that they just look like they’re doing a really great job.”