A 44ft (13.4m) sperm whale which became beached probably died because it got lost, a marine expert involved in the rescue bid said yesterday.
The 20-tonne adult male was stranded on Redcar beach in Cleveland and reported to police at 6.10am yesterday, sparking a major operation to save it.
But Richard Ilderton, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said the North Sea was the wrong environment for such a large creature, and any attempt to refloat it – even if it was possible – would have been cruel.
The partially submerged whale was pronounced dead just after 9am, despite firefighters keeping it wet with a jet.
Mr Ilderton said: "While we have whales in the North Sea, it is not a suitable environment for a sperm whale because the food supply is not there.
He added: "If we were able to put the animal back out to sea, all we would be doing is putting it back out to starve, which is massively cruel."