Whale ‘as big as a bus’ washed up after drama on Hunstanton Beach
Battered and bruised, it came to rest as its life ebbed away with the tide.
First light today revealed the giant of the deep that washed up on Hunstanton Beach.
The 30ft sperm whale was one of four seen swimming off the resort yesterday afternoon.
While three of the pod appeared to swim away to safety, one became stranded beneath the cliffs.
Hunstanton lifeboat crew launched their hovercraft and tried to coax the creature back out to sea. But as the tide turned at dusk, the whale thrashed around desperately in the rocky shallows, fighting a losing battle for its life.
Experts from the British Divers Marine Rescue group rushed to the scene, as police and coastguards cordoned off the beach. They were stood down, when it became clear they could not save the creature.
Member Beth Phelps said: 'We can't move it, it's not in good shape, it's bleeding a lot. We haven't got the capacity to euthanase an animal that size. It's 30ft long and about 20 tonnes.'
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As the tide retreated, the whale's struggles became weaker. First its great tail flukes broke the surface, then its back as it ran out of water.
Its injuries could clearly be seen as the moon rose over the cliff tops, great gashes and wounds gouged by the chalk and carr stone boulders which litter the beach.
Earlier, crowds gathered on the prom to watch the drama as searchlights lit up the sea. News of the whales' arrival off Hunstanton had spread by social media.
Nigel Croasdale, manager of Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary, said: 'We received a number of calls from members of the public, saying that they had seen large animals, sharks of whales, along the coast.
'We went out to have a look to see what was going on. We saw at least four individual whales which we believed to be sperm whales swimming around in the shallow water.
'They seemed to be moving slowly. I think at that point, they were finding themselves partially-beached.
'One or two of them appeared to be rolling, as if partially-beached. The tide was still on its way in at that point.'
Peter Naylor, 29, from Old Hunstanton, said: 'I saw three myself, but there has been talk that there are four, while I've heard the Humber coastguard has reported there could be as many as six.
'When I got down there, there was one which had made its way out into The Wash and there were two very much stuck. The tide was coming in and one of them managed to get away.
'One of them was really stuck and it was still there when I left. It looked like it was really stuck and there's not a lot anyone can do. It's a huge whale, it must be about as big as a bus and it looked like it had cut itself up quite badly.'
Lindsay Bird, 24, from Ingioldisthorpe, a frequent walker on the beach, said: 'I walk down here two or three times a week and I've never seen anything like it before.'
On Christmas Eve 2011, a sperm whale washed-up at nearby Old Hunstanton. Thousands flocked to see it.
A warning was issued to visitors urging them not to touch the body, or allow their dogs to contact it directly, as it was decomposing on the sand.
The Health Protection Agency and Food Standards Agency also issued a joint statement which also warned watersport participants to stay away.