GALVESTON, Texas (FOX 26) - For morning beachcombers, there was no mistaking the massive fin. It was clearly attached to an enormous mammal, a whale, in dire straits.
"We did confirm it was alive," said Heidi Whitehead of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. "It was breathing." But as the hours wore on, watching and waiting on the west end beach was all rescuers could offer.
"They don't typically come to shore unless they are close to death or very sick," added Whitehead. "It was just too dangerous for our staff to be out in the water with a whale when it was alive due to the sheer size of the animal."
Among the hundreds of people drawn by both curiosity and caring, the inability to offer aid sparked spirited exchange.
"They should have taken a tarp and put it under the animal and tried to put him back into deep water so that he could try to right itself," said Gary Crump, an island visitor who stood vigil as the whale floundered in the surf. "Give it a shot of antibiotics! They didn't do anything."
"The reason they didn't try to take it back to the deep is that when they come in that far like he was and they could tell from his breathing that he was too far gone," countered onlooker Renita Price.
And it apparently was.
By late morning, the whale became lifeless and rescue transitioned into recovery. It took heavy chains and plenty of horsepower to pull the gentle giant from the sea.
League City resident Janie Stewart said she hopes that those who witnessed the whale's final moments will have learned a powerful lesson.
"I hope that they can take away that we really need to do stuff to save these animals," said Stewart.
Whitehead said that a necropsy will be performed on the 42-foot whale to determine exact species and attempt to unravel the mystery of the animal's death.