© Tanya Layman
Rescuers try to pull the whale shark into the water
More than 100 volunteers have failed to save the life of a nine-metre whale shark which washed up on a beach in Ecuador.

The female whale shark became stranded on the beach of the small town of Santa Marianita after being caught in the shallow waters as the tide went out.

The shark was spotted by local fishermen on Monday morning and within a few hours dozens of volunteers including police, fishermen and tourists arrived to help pull it back into the sea using ropes.

Tanya Layman, who studied marine biology at Townsville's James Cook University, lives 15 minutes from where the whale shark was beached and found out about it through a friend's Facebook post.

She says police rescue boats were trying to pull the whale shark to sea and bobcats tried to push the animal back into the ocean, but it was simply too heavy.

Layman estimates the shark measured around nine metres long and 16 tonnes in weight.

"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," she said.

After six hours of rescue attempts the whale shark eventually died.

Ms Layman says this is not a common occurrence.

"There have always been few passing whale sharks in the coastal waters, but not many," she said.

"I have never heard of a beached whale shark in this area."