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  • Writer's pictureDes Lewis

Caught on camera: Whale shark surfaces off the coast of North Florida

The rare sighting was shared widely on social media.

A whale sharks swims with its mouth open. A diver films underwater nearby.
A whale shark filmed by a diver. Photo via Wix.

(Photo via Wix)

On Sunday, July 16th, Ashley Nixon took to Facebook to share a genuinely spectacular encounter ¾ a whale shark just off the coast of North Florida.

Nixon and a group of friends were around 5 miles off the coast of popular beach town Destin, as reported by the Miami Herald, when they noticed a mammoth of a fish swimming next to their boat.

The group was initially confused about the big fish. Spotting the animal’s fin, the boaters threw out multiple guesses: “That is not a whale. It’s a hammerhead shark!”

After the creature swims closer in the video, the group almost identified it.

“That’s a whale, y’all,” a boater said. Yes: a whale shark.

Iconic fish in Florida waters

Seeing a whale shark in Florida waters is rare and counts up to about 30 sightings per year. Though it is uncommon to spot a whale shark, scientists in the Galapagos have found it is more likely to find them near the archipelago during the cooler “garua” – misting – a season that takes place from June to December, according to the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.

According to the World Wildlife Organization, whale sharks are often found in tropical waters and travel great distances in search of plankton, fish eggs and smaller fish.

Much is unknown about these so-called gentle giants.

The million-dollar questions are where are they mating, hunting and where do their young live,” Jonathan Green, director of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project has said.

As a result of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, marine biologist have speculated that pregnant whale sharks spend most of their time in the Galapagos Islands. This is only a theory. Other findings suggest that birthing take place off the coast of Perú. Despite these speculations, humans have not documented a whale shark birth.

The sharks are listed as endangered. Officials maintain the shark on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since 2016 with declining numbers every year since.

According to the World Wildlife Organization, humans poach whale and the fish are accidentally killed at an alarmingly high level.

“Whale sharks are highly valued on international markets. Demand for their meat, fins and oil remains a threat to the species, particularly by unregulated fisheries,” the World Wildlife Organization reports. “They are victims of bycatch, the accidental capture of non-target species in fishing gear. And whale shark tourism presents a threat to the species as it can interrupt their feeding and sharks can be injured by boat propellers.”

Whale sharks play an integral role in regulating the ocean’s plankton levels, meaning spotting one in the area could indicate a healthy marine ecosystem, according to GVI USA.


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