A whale shark found at Great Barrier Island.
© Zane Broadbelt
A whale shark found at Great Barrier Island.
A morning stroll on the beach turned into a bit of a spectacle when Zane Broadbelt suddenly spotted what looked to be a stranded whale.

He and his partner, Laura, were walking along the beach at Harataonga, on Great Barrier Island, when they made the discovery on Sunday.

"I just saw a lump in the sand," he told the Herald.

On closer inspection, they realised it was a dead whale shark.

"It was about 6m long and looked like it had been there for about a week.

"I've never seen a whale shark before. It's not something you expect to see around here, especially at this time."

The Department of Conservation confirmed their staff responded to a public sighting of the dead whale shark last Thursday.

It was a significant find as although whale sharks migrate annually to New Zealand waters, this was the first recorded stranding in New Zealand, a DoC spokeswoman said.

A dead whale shark spotted at Harataonga, on Great Barrier Island.
© Zane Broadbelt
A dead whale shark spotted at Harataonga, on Great Barrier Island.
Kaumātua of Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea said a karakia at the site before DoC staff photographed, measured and took samples for DNA analysis and aging.

The large fish was recorded as a juvenile male measuring 7.7m.

A DoC spokeswoman said the carcass has been left on the beach to decompose naturally.

DoC, the Ministry for Primary Industries and iwi are still investigating the cause of the death.

Despite being so big, whale sharks are not considered to be dangerous to humans and are slow-moving, filter-feeding fish.

Although considered rare to see around New Zealand, people have been known to encounter whale sharks around parts of the country at different times of the year.

In April, 2018, two friends on their jet skis came across what they described a "huge" whale shark near Whangamatā.

Alastair Shorten told the Herald at the time: "It took us a little while to realise what it was. I had never heard of them being in New Zealand waters and thought it was something more ominous."

The whale shark was said to be very curious about their jet skis and kept swimming between them.

"It was pretty exciting - and made up for catching no fish. It is not what you expect to see on a Sunday afternoon."