POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) – A group of divers off the coast of Broward County has a whale of a tale.
According to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald, the divers enjoyed an hour-long face-to-face underwater encounter with a giant whale shark estimated at 30 feet long.
Craig Dietrich, an underwater photographer and dive instructor with Pompano Beach Dive Center told the Herald that his dive boat received a call from another dive boat on Sunday about a group of snorkelers in the water with a large whale shark but no one had a camera.
Dietrich rushed to join the other boat about a mile south of Hillsboro Inlet and joined the snorkelers in the water with his underwater camera.
He said there were about 25 people in the water with the whale shark which was just swimming and eating. Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the sea and this big fish didn’t seem to mind the attention. The whale shark stayed with the snorkelers and divers for more than an hour than it simply swam away.
For Dietrich and the others, it was their first live view of a whale shark.
Sightings of whale sharks off Florida’s southeast coast are “rare, but not unprecedented, nothing new to science,” according to Bob Hueter, senior scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
Hueter said he received another report of a whale shark off Hillsboro Inlet on Nov. 16 from fishermen targeting dolphin in 1,600 feet of water.
Whale sharks, which can grow to 40 feet, are plankton eaters that pose no danger to people. They feed by cruising near the surface and sucking in plankton and small fish that are in the path of their gaping mouths.
Federal law prohibits harvesting them. They are known to roam the world’s oceans, and a large aggregation has been documented off Mexico’s northern Yucatan region during the summer months. Hueter said there’s a good chance last Sunday’s shark was a member of that group, some of which have been tagged by scientists.
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