A tiny dolphin found in the waters off Argentina died after beachgoers picked up the sea mammal and paraded it around in front of curious onlookers before abandoning it on the sand.

Two La Plata or Franciscana dolphins, one of the smallest species in the world, were plucked out of the ocean at the beach resort of Santa Teresita in the north-eastern Buenos Aires province. They were held aloft by men as a crowd gathered around to snap photos of the tiny mammals. One animal survived the ordeal, but the other perished, and its body was discarded on the sand by the callous beachgoers, where they continued to snap photos of its dead body.

News reports claim that the dolphin was “manhandled to death.” 

The death of the dolphin has caused outrage across the globe from animal rights activists, who have called its death “horrific, traumatic and utterly unnecessary.”

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"This terribly unfortunate event is an example of the casual cruelty people can inflict when they use animals for entertainment purposes, without thinking of the animal's needs," a spokeswoman for Australia's arm of World Animal Protection. "Wild animals are not toys or photo props. They should be appreciated — and left alone — in the wild where they belong."

The death has caused the Wildlife Foundation in Argentina to release a public warning about the species – which is native to the coastal waters of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

“The Franciscana, like other species, cannot remain for much time outside of the water. It has thick fatty skin which gives it heat and means that taking it out of the water causes it to dehydrate rapidly and die,” the group said, according to the Daily Mail.

The Wildlife Foundation added, “This occasion serves to inform the public about the urgent necessity to return these dolphins to the sea as soon as possible if they find them on the shore. It is fundamental that people help to rescue these animals, because every Franciscana counts now.”

The Franciscana is listed as 'Vulnerable' in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) list of threatened species. If left undisturbed the dolphins can live to 20 years old.

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