According to multiple media reports, a 55-foot-long marine animal recently washed up dead on a beach at Guangdong, China. You can see its decaying body in the above image. Now the question is: What’s this species that beach goers are calling a “sea monster?”

Live Science showed the photo to three marine biology experts: Scott Baker of Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute, Bill Perrin, senior scientist for marine mammals at the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Bob Brownell, senior scientist for international protected resources with NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

All three said they think it’s a whale. As to the exact species, they’re not certain, but Live Science quoted Baker as saying, “it’s a balaenopterid.”

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He added, “Judging from the reported size of 55 ft., maybe a fin whale. From the photo, however, it does not really look to be 55 ft., and so might be a smaller balaenopterid, like one of the Bryde’s whales.”

(Bryde’s whale; Image: NOAA, Sophie Webb)

Bryde’s whales can weigh up to 55,000 pounds. They primarily feed on plankton, crustaceans and fish, which they catch by surface skimming, lunging and by use of bubble nets. Although not historically targeted by hunters, Bryde’s whales are killed through Japan’s “scientific whaling program,” which has been criticized by Greenpeace and other organizations.

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The sad fate of this whale probably began when it was likely entangled, either intentionally or as bycatch, in fishing ropes. Given its weight and size, the whale could not be hauled in, so it wound up floating ashore, where its decaying body is now releasing a horrible stench but still attracting onlookers.

Baker concluded, “We all hope somebody collects the bones and a tissue sample for genetic analysis as recovery of whale carcasses is rare along the coast of China.”

Image source: The Sun