Hopes are fading for a pod of sperm whales which have stranded at Withernsea
Around four of the group were believed to still be alive on Christmas Eve, but all were believed to be in a poor nutritional condition, according to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue.
Onlookers saw heartbreaking scenes with at least four of the massive animals lying motionless in the surf, close to the southern end of Withernsea, their giant tails flapping with the motion of the waves.
Another was floating in the water a few yards off, still apparently alive, with a dorsal fin breaking the surface.
The whales are the largest of the toothed whales and are usually found in deep offshore waters where they feed on squid, which are not abundant in the North Sea. Because of their size they are impossible to move when stranded.
The pod is thought to consist of juvenile males, over 25ft long.
Experts say they can often end up confused in the shallower water off the east coast.
People gathered on the clifftops to take in the sombre sight, despite police warnings to stay away.
One onlooker, an ex fisherman, blamed the impact of supertrawlers, which can catch hundreds of tonnes of fish every day.
He said: “It’s a terrible sight and a terrible indictment on us as humans. It’s not just cod and haddock, we are talking about, it is the whole ecosystem. We need to ban these supertrawlers.”
A mythical albino sperm whale was immortalised in Herman Melville’s bestseller Moby Dick.
In the novel the writer describes how a 48ft whale skeleton was taken to Burton Constable Hall, near Hull, after it washed up on the shore at nearby Tunstall in 1825.
Although strandings of individual whales happens infrequently, such a large stranding is not thought to have happened in East Yorkshire for at least three decades.