Several swimmers lift a dying dolphin out of the water for a photo shoot on a beach in Sanya, Hainan province, on Sunday evening. Sha Xiaofeng / for China Daily 
Wildlife experts have criticized swimmers who posed for pictures with a dying dolphin on a South China beach, hampering the efforts of people trying to save the mammal.
Photographs taken by witnesses in Sanya, a popular tourist destination in Hainan province, were widely circulated online on Tuesday.
Several showed a group of men holding the dolphin above shallow water while another swimmer took photographs.
"Many tourists came up and asked to touch the dolphin, and some lifted it up to take photos while we were trying to save it," said Chen Zhongcheng, one of 10 lifeguards who arrived on the scene after tourists reported seeing a stranded dolphin off Dadonghai beach at about 6 pm on Sunday.
"The dolphin was clearly in distress," Chen said. "It couldn’t breathe freely, so we had to lift its blowhole clear of the water’s surface every few minutes so it could get some air."
An elderly fisherman who witnessed the incident said the swimmers’ behavior was "inappropriate" and that they could have easily caused the dolphin to drown.
Experts from a wildlife rescue center eventually arrived to remove the dolphin from the beach at 8:30 pm.
"We aren’t professional rescuers, so (after receiving a call from the Dadonghai lifeguards) we contacted Hainan Nanhai Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Center for help," said Ding Xiuhong of the Sanya fisheries bureau. "Their center is far from Sanya, so they put us in touch with a protection group experienced in rescuing endangered aquatic animals."
Ding said the dolphin died from a collapsed lung at about 11:30 pm Sunday night.
Many experts and netizens blamed the dolphin’s death on the swimmers who posed for pictures.
"They should face criminal charges," said Wang Yamin, a professor of marine studies at Shandong University, Weihai. "If not for them, the animal may have survived."
Hua Ning, director of the China program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, also expressed dismay at the onlookers’ actions. "It must have been very painful for the dolphin," she said.
According to Chen Juming, director of the Hainan Nanhai Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Center, a swimmer should report sightings of dolphins in distress to the local fisheries bureau or nearest rescue center.
"A stranded dolphin can drown in the water, so if conditions permit, dig a hole in the sand and cover its body with a wet towel, and add water every two minutes," he said. "They should also be kept out of the sun to prevent their skin drying or dehydration."
SOURCE: China Daily
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