A lost whale made a surprise visit to a luxurious marina in Argentina, periodically surfacing among the yachts while hundreds of onlookers tried to capture the moment with smartphones.
After causing a splash at the luxurious Puerto Madero dock in Buenos Aires, the whale was guided out to open waters Tuesday by workers deployed by the city.
The animal, measuring about 20 feet, appeared near the Yacht Club on Monday morning, an unexpected diversion from its migration from the country's southeast up to the warmer Brazilian northeast.
Aquatic rescue workers, with help from the nation's environment secretary and local organizations, tried to lead the whale to open water on Monday. It was showing signs of malnutrition and wounds on its skin, experts said.
Only on Tuesday morning were workers led by city government vessels able to guide the animal toward the Rio Plata River, from which they hoped it would reach the Atlantic Ocean.
Puerto Madero's young visitor is of the Megaptera novaengliae species, which grows to as much as 52 feet.
News of the whale quickly spread on social media and was broadcast live by local stations, prompting hundreds to line up to catch a glimpse.
"We were at home having lunch when we saw it on the news and said, `We have to see this for ourselves,"' said Rosana Saavedra, a teacher who came with her husband and teenage daughter. "We were so curious. What is this whale doing here?"
Within a few hours, the normally sedate quarter with pricey coffee and pastry shops had a carnival feel as vendors sold cotton candy and soda, and families with small children kept an eye out for the whale.
People were worried about what might happen to the creature.
"It's really sad," said Daniela Ritta, who works at a bank around the corner from the marina and went with colleagues to have a look. "This is not its natural habitat. The poor whale is clearly lost."
Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Whale Conservation Institute in Argentina, said whales sometimes get disoriented and swim upstream in rivers. When that happens, they often need help to get back to sea — usually from boats to direct them.
A freshwater environment like a marina can hurt the skin of whales, provides no food and makes it harder for them to swim because it is not as buoyant as salt water, Sironi said.