A 50-foot sperm whale got stranded on the shores of Zarautz town in Spain and then died, a marine scientist said.

The cause of the whale's demise was not known, said marine scientist Enrique Franco.

"It almost certainly came here to die. It's not uncommon for such animals to beach when they are very ill," Franco said.

Despite its large size, the whale had not yet reached maturity, said Franco, vice president of the Society for the Study and Conservation of Marine Fauna in Spain's Bay of Biscay.

The challenge now will be finding a tug boat powerful enough to tow the carcass away from the beach, said Franco, so its bones can be preserved to study.

"These are big animals and this one could weigh more than 20 tons," the scientist said, adding that the whale's sheer size made it very difficult to lift it up for a full examination.

He said the carcass will be towed out to sea, then taken to the nearby port of Orio at high tide. There it will be buried in sand for about four years. At that point, the skeleton will be retrieved for scientific and teaching purposes.

By mid-afternoon Friday, a large crowd of tourists and residents had gathered on the beach in Zarautz to take photographs and watch the removal of the dead whale.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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