A whale shark washed up on Double Island beach was likely the same animal that surfers and swimmers freed from the rocks at Noosa National Park two weeks ago. Picture: Linda Nicole Keam
A whale shark washed up on Double Island beach was likely the same animal that surfers and swimmers freed from the rocks at Noosa National Park two weeks ago. Picture: Linda Nicole Keam

Young whale shark found washed up on beach

A juvenile whale shark helped out of the rocks at a Noosa beach weeks ago was found beached at Double Island on Friday.

Whale shark expert Brad Norman said it was definitely the same animal by looking at its unique spot pattern.

He said despite surfers and bystanders giving the endangered animal the best chance of survival when they guided it to deeper water, it was likely unwell.

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"Whale sharks are very susceptible to human impacts," Dr Norman, of Murdoch University's Harry Butler Institute, said.

"In this situation from the photograph it doesn't appear that there's any trauma from a boat strike, so there might have been something internal.

Whale shark researcher of the Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Brad Norman. Picture: Scott Portelli
Whale shark researcher of the Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Brad Norman. Picture: Scott Portelli

"Being a filter feeder whale sharks are dependent on healthy areas to feed … but they're also very susceptible to pollution and plastics in the ocean."

It appeared the animal had two shark bites out of its body but Dr Norman believed this would have happened after it died.

Estimates suggest populations of the endangered animal worldwide have plummeted by more than 50 per cent over the past 75 years.

Helping the Whale Shark swim back out to sea today.

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Dr Norman said with Australia Zoo, Queensland Fisheries and University of Sunshine Coast, images and videos of the whale shark at Noosa National Park were studied to identify any learnings on how to protect the species.

James Orr captured this video of the shark feeding shortly after it was released from the rocks.

Dr Norman said there was an increase in reported sightings on the east coast, but it may not be good news.

"In some respects, it's fantastic we're getting more sightings," the whale shark researcher of 26 years said.

"On the flip side though it might be because they're having to forage further because their natural feeding areas are being compromised."

The research includes relying on the public to act as citizen scientists by taking photos and videos of encounters with the world's biggest fish.

A whale shark washed up on Double Island beach was likely the same animal that surfers and swimmers freed from the rocks at Noosa National Park two weeks ago. Picture: Jarra Chapman
A whale shark washed up on Double Island beach was likely the same animal that surfers and swimmers freed from the rocks at Noosa National Park two weeks ago. Picture: Jarra Chapman

He said footage of whale sharks was valuable, particularly underwater photos of behind the gills and above the pectoral fin.

But people are urged to stay a few metres away from the animal and not to disturb its swimming pattern.

Dr Norman is also working with Australia Zoo to develop a whale conservation program for the east coast.

"These animals have suffered because of humans but we have the potential to bring them back from the brink through good management and improved research to understand how to protect them long-term," he said.

If you have photos or videos of a whale shark encounter, email them to b.norman@murdoch.edu.au.