© Mark Girardeau
A Newport Beach lifeguard ties a rope around a dead humpback whale, nicknamed Scarlet, in an effort to tow the carcass out to sea Thursday.
Newport Beach lifeguards had their eyes trained on the horizon early Friday trying to make sure a 55-foot dead humpback whale — nicknamed Scarlet by local boaters — that was seen Thursday afternoon didn't make its way to the beach.

A dead whale onshore can create a very smelly problem, lifeguards said.

"If it hits the beach, it's going to stay here until it can be chopped up and towed off," said Marine Safety Capt. Skeeter Leeper. "It's a mess and it stinks."

Lifeguards saw the massive figure heading toward shore near the Newport Pier at about 3 p.m. Thursday. At first it looked like a large boat, but on closer inspection, they realized it was a humpback whale, Leeper said.

They tied a rope around the whale's tail and used a lifeguard boat to tow the carcass about 6½ miles out to sea. The whale's massive size — about twice the size of the lifeguard boat — meant the journey took about an hour.

"We're not sure where it ended up overnight because of the winds," Leeper said. "But we're watching for it."

Trying to prevent whale carcasses from washing ashore isn't new to local lifeguards.

Over the course of two weeks in 2016, a dead humpback whale named Wally kept threatening to wash ashore. It was first seen at Dockweiler State Beach in Los Angeles County and eventually made its way south, ending its journey in San Diego County.

Wally was twice towed after floating close to Newport and then again in Dana Point and San Clemente.

The whale finally washed ashore at Grandview Beach in Encinitas and local contractors had to cut up the body and haul it off the beach, an arduous process that took about two days.