Scuba surprise: Whale shark spotted off Fla. coast
POMPANO BEACH, Fla. (WHDH) -- A group of South Florida divers experienced a very rare encounter with a shark in the waters of a local beach.
"This is definitely the biggest fish out there," said Boat Captain Brett Eagan.
The 35-foot whale shark was swimming in the waters just off of Hillsborough Inlet. "Just saw a fin on the top of the water and then and as soon as you put your mask in, you realized there was a whale shark coming right at you," said Eagan.
Divers were aboard the Sea Dog Diver vessel when they encountered the world's largest fish. "He was coming up and opening its mouth and just doing what he was doing and just feeding," said Eagan.
Craig Dietrich of Pompano Dive Center snapped amazing underwater photos of the shark with its gaping mouth. Experts call this fish a "gentle giant" and said it's quite curious in nature. "You can look into his eye and it's almost as if it were smiling and enjoying what was going on and the interaction with us," said Dietrich. "It was breath-taking."
Divers said the whale shark was almost as big as the 36-foot vessel they were aboard. "Another boat pulled up to it and kind of made that boat look fairly small," said Dietrich.
The dive crew was so close to the fish, Gina Cochrane shot video footage of the large creature. "Yes, it was pretty much arm's length from me," she said. "Their massive size is just something you sit there in awe of, because you couldn't believe how docile, playful and elegant they move in the water."
Whale sharks usually inhabit the waters off the coast of South America and a rarely seen in South Florida beaches. "I've talked to divers and captains that have been out here for 23 years and most of them have never even seen them out here," said Dietrich.
This experience is something the dive crew will always remember. "This is the crème de la crème," said Cochrane. "It doesn't get any better than this."