A dead baby minke whale, too big for a transport container, flopped onto the concrete in a parking lot in Rye, New Hampshire, and the 4,000-pound mistake was all caught on camera.
"Oh, that's just terrible," gasped Sarah Rogers, a Stratham resident, as she watched the video.
The whale washed ashore on Jenness Beach Monday morning. Experts say it likely died after getting tangled in fishing lines and crews added insult to injury when they tried to move it.
"That was a mistake that shouldn't have happened and I take full responsibility for that," Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh said.
Walsh says it was a coordinated effort to remove the dead animal from the public beach. The town called on the state to bring in the dumpster to help transport the whale for a necropsy.
"Our goal was removing the biohazard right away," Walsh said.
He says the problem was simple miscommunication.
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"We said, 'baby whale,' so everyone thought it was a small whale," Walsh explained. "We should have measured the length of the animal so it was clear what size container we would need."
When asked why they still attempted to put the large animal in the too-small container, Walsh said they had a strategy. The operator of the front-end loader was trying to drop it into the dumpster diagonally to let the tail stick out.
"And then we had a way we were going to cover it up," Walsh said.
That didn't work.
So the 16-foot whale spent Monday night in the beach parking lot until a larger container was brought in on Tuesday to haul it away.
"It's heartbreaking, honestly," Rogers said.
"It's too bad they didn't manage it a little bit better," said Rye resident Jen Carney.
Chief Walsh says it was a lesson learned the hard way. On behalf of all the agencies involved, he promised to do a better job next time.
A necropsy on the whale was scheduled for Wednesday.
Biologists are hoping to learn more about the minke whale and what may be causing others to wash ashore from Florida to Maine.