More than 100 fishermen and police in Ecuador battled for several hours on Monday in a failed attempt to save a beached female whale shark. Rescuers said the whale shark died after about six hours. (Reuters)

When a whale shark -- the world's largest species of fish -- washed up on a beach in Ecuador on Monday, more than 100 volunteers worked to save it.  But their efforts to push the notoriously docile shark back into the water failed, leaving the creature dead.

[Record numbers of starving baby sea lions continue to wash ashore in California]

According to reports by the Independent and other outlets, those working to push the 30-foot long, 16-tonne shark tried to keep it alive by moistening its skin and gills and using kites from a local kite surfing school to shade it. It proved too heavy for the volunteers to move, and only survived for about six hours before succumbing.

[Mysterious megamouth shark washes ashore in the Philippines]

Whale sharks are classified as a vulnerable species, meaning that they're likely to become endangered if actions aren't taken to protect them. Many are even larger than the one lost in Ecuador, but the sharks are far from ferocious. These filter feeders are so known for their gentle demeanor that tourists often seek them out to swim with them.

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