Whale Shark Beaches In Ecuador Prompting Six-Hour Rescue Attempt

A nine-meter-long whale shark washed ashore on the coast of Ecuador earlier this week, prompting a massive rescue effort that involved over 100 volunteers who struggled to save the life of one of the ocean’s largest fish.

The whale shark was spotted by a fisherman early Monday morning, according to the ABC News. The animal, a large female shark, had become stranded on a beach at the small town of Santa Marianita as a retreating tide left it in dangerously shallow water. Dozens of volunteers were mobilized to aid the stranded whale shark as tourists, police, and local fishermen joined together to move it back into the sea using ropes.

Tanya Layman, a former marine biology student at James Cook University, witnessed the whale shark’s stranding, which took place just 15 minutes from her home. She estimated that the massive shark weighed nearly 16 tons, a mass that proved to be immobile despite the efforts of rescuers who employed not only boats, but also heavy machinery to attempt to move the shark.

“The volunteers did their best to keep the animal breathing by flushing water in its mouth and over its five pairs of gills in addition to protecting it from the scorching sun with shirts and kites from the local kite-boarding school.”

Despite the continued work of officials and bystanders, the whale shark‘s fate was sealed. Around 3 p.m., after roughly six hours of repeated attempts at rescue, the shark succumbed to exposure and exhaustion and passed away, according to Yahoo News.

Slow moving filter-feeders, whale sharks are usually considered harmless to humans, though one of the animals struck a free diver in the mid-Atlantic last year. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the diver was filming a friend at the time of the accident and didn’t notice the whale shark as it approached behind him. By the time he was alerted to its presence, the shark was unavoidably close, and it inadvertently rammed him. In general, however, whale sharks have far more to fear from humans, as they are typically at risk of capture in generalized nets.

Though Layman asserts that such a stranding is far from a common occurrence, whale sharks are known to inhabit local coastal waters. Their numbers are few, however, and she maintains that she has never heard of another whale shark stranding in that region of Ecuador.

[Image: Tanya Layman via the ABC]