A BABY dolphin found struggling for life at Rainbow Beach on Friday afternoon died over the weekend, but not before capturing a family's heart.
Rainbow Beach property owner Nadine Hall, her husband Roy (pictured), their two children and a handful of other beach-goers came across the three-week-old fraser's dolphin half-way between Double Island Point and Rainbow around 3pm.
They spent the next two hours trying to keep her alive.
Mrs Hall said it was a rough day in the ocean so the initial plan was to help the youngster make it past the breaking waves and back out to sea. But the exhausted dolphin kept washing back to shore.
After 45 minutes of trying, Mrs Hall resorted to holding the dolphin, which they later named Sandy, in the water against the choppy conditions while they awaited the help of wildlife rescue workers.
Mrs Hall nursed Sandy in the ocean for around an hour while her children cleared the dolphins' blowhole so she could breath.
The young dolphin, which still had a pink undercarriage, was dependent on its mother's milk and Mrs Hall was later told by a Sea World spokesperson that it appeared Sandy had been abandoned for up to five days and was seriously malnourished.
As Sandy was held in the water, Mrs Hall and her children felt for a heart beat and occasionally they would see their little patient's eyes open.
Two hours after the dolphin was found, wildlife rescue workers collected her in a stretcher and transported her to a temporary tank where she was picked up by Sea World carers.
Mrs Hall said when she called Sea World Saturday morning, things were looking up for Sandy, who had drunk milk from a bottle.
So it came as a shock when just a couple of hours later the struggling dolphin died in the arms of a carer as she held Sandy in the water.
"My kids are absolutely devastated; They haven't stopped crying," Mrs Hall said of daughter Shayla, 12 and Bayley, 10.
Mrs Hall, an avid dolphin lover who's Gold Coast home is filled with dolphin art, said while it wasn't "the right ending", it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"You'd never take it back."
Mrs Hall said Sea World planned to undertake an autopsy on Sandy.