A shark washed up on Westshore Beach gave Napier residents a close encounter with the rarely-seen animal.

Residents said they thought the shark, identified as a bronze whaler, was between a metre-and-a-half to 2m long.

Napier resident Libor Bombik and his family saw the shark lying on the beach on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Bombik said his three young daughters hadn't been frightened and actually thought the shark was "pretty cool".

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"My 6-year-old was pretty excited and was poking it ... even for me and my wife touching a shark's skin was quite cool."

Napier couple Nikki Fox and Michael Foster also stumbled across the shark 20m along the walkway between the Esplanade Westshore and Bay View.

Ms Fox said the only time she had seen sharks that close had been at the aquarium. "I was thinking 'thank goodness I wasn't swimming at the time'. It's unusual. You don't ever see sharks, my first thought was how it had come to be there."

National Aquarium of New Zealand exhibits curator Kerry Hewitt said it was uncommon for sharks to wash up on the beach. As a section of the shark's intestines were outside its body, Mr Hewitt said it could have been a bearing female who had come into shore to give birth.

It was hard to tell exactly how the bronze whaler had died but it "wasn't fresh".

Mr Hewitt said the ragged dorsal fin, wrinkled skin, sunken eyes, and folded fins suggested the shark had been dead for a couple of days, and that heavy seas had possibly pushed the shark up on the beach.