Nearly a hundred police officers, animal rescuers and concerned citizens rallied last week to try to save a nine-metre female whale shark that washed up on a beach near the small town of Santa Marianita in Ecuador. 

The 16-ton shark was spotted by local fishermen when it rolled into the surf. Volunteers used hoses and buckets to keep water flowing over the animal's gills and held shade overhead to protect its skin from the scorching sun, while officials tried to roll the shark back to sea with boats and diggers. 

"They did their best," says eyewitness Tanya Layman. 

Despite all the effort to save it, the animal died after six hours – whale sharks' cartilaginous skeletons aren't equipped to carry such immense weight without the help of water.

The stranding is thought to be the first of its kind in the area, but whale shark strandings have been recorded elsewhere in the world, including on the South African and Australian coastlines. However, most of these incidents have involved juvenile animals much smaller than this large female. It’s thought that sudden changes in water temperature and strong wave action can cause these gentle giants to strand, but in this case, the animal was sick."They ended up doing a necropsy in a nearby town and it revealed that the shark had a blood infection," explains Layman. "They believe this is why she beached herself." 

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Image: Tanya Layman
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Image: Tanya Layman
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Image: Tanya Layman
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Image: Tanya Layman
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Shirts and kites from a local kiteboarding school were used to protect the shark's skin. Image: NewsBeat Social/screengrab from YouTube

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