By Nelson Groom
The rotting remains of a mystery creature that washed ashore on an African beach have left scientists baffled.
Stunned researchers stumbled upon the 19ft 6in (6m) beaked carcass last week on the idyllic coastline of Dorob National Park, Namibia.
The strange sea animal appears to resemble both a whale and a dolphin, but its advanced state of decomposition made it difficult to identify.
A fiery debate was ignited on social media, with commenters divided between those who believed it was a dolphin and those who were certain it was a whale.
Namibian Dolphin Project (NDP) Researcher Dr Simon Elwen said: “On first sighting we had no idea what species it was.
“The body of this animal was in an advanced state of decomposition – making it look rather un-whale like and there were several confused reports on social media.
“However, based on the shape of the head and snout and the overall size – research team are fairly confident that the specimen is a Cuvier’s beaked whale.”
Cuvier’s beaked whales have bodies shaped like torpedos, foreheads that slope into short beaks and curved mouths with a vaguely “smiling” appearance.
They inhabit deep-water regions from the tropics to cool temperate waters, with this serving as only the second found in Namibia since 2000.
Dr Elwen said it was not possible to identify the cause of death – but its head was severely crushed.
He said: “Unfortunately, the body was too decomposed to conduct a more detailed necropsy to determine the cause of death.
“The lower jawbone was cracked and broken quite severely, however, given the state of the corpse and the absence of any apparent external injuries, the damage to the jaw was possibly post-mortem.
“I was quite surprised. These animals are rarely seen in the water, so to see them on land is very unique
“The team collected a number of samples including the skull of the animal, which will be used for further research.”