Whale sharks are seen in various place in the Gulf of Mexico, most likely to feed on localized blooms of plankton or fish eggs.
Bradenton, Florida -- Three Manatee County couples who went deep sea fishing over the weekend spotted one particular fish that was much too big to catch!
David Merullo has been a certified scuba diver for 16 years and he's also a boat captain, and Merullo's never seen one, but he's heard about them.
"They're the only thing on the surface and huge," says Merullo who is an instructor with Scuba Quest in Sarasota.
Tracy Gardner, an avid boater, has never seen one either until Sunday afternoon 45 miles off Anna Maria Island.
"Wow…he's huge," Tracy is heard saying on video.
Tracy sees the world's largest fish. She says, "It was a whale shark a very massive whale shark. It was at least the length of the 26-foot boat we were on."
Tracy grabbed her phone and recorded the rare sighting while her friend took still pictures. Tracy's video has had more than 11,000 views on YouTube.
"The whale shark came right up to us. I was standing on the bow of the boat he swam right underneath us. It was so beautiful and graceful -- it was amazing!"
Mote Scientists say whale sharks can reach up to 42 feet in length and weigh 24 tons, but Merullo says don't let size scare you too much.
"They can be very curious and they can come up alongside a boat," Dr. Bob Hueter with Mote Marine Laboratory told 10 News in a 2010 interview. "A lot of people have been going out to swim with them."
"I wouldn't be afraid to get in the water and snorkel or swim with them," says Merullo.
The whale shark is a plankton-eating filter eater, but if swimming with them, scientists say stay at least six feet away because their size can hurt you.
However, their overall gentleness is why Merullo says divers seek them out.
"People want to go out and find them take a look at them."
As we know, not all sharks are as friendly. If you are in the water and are threatened by a shark there are ways to protect yourself. Divers suggest wearing a shark shield around your ankle it sends off a low pulse frequency that scares off the shark. Then there's always the spear gun that can be adapted with a power head so you can shoot the shark.
But this is one shark Tracy hopes to see again and maybe go for a swim together.
"I would love to see it again."
WATCH: Tracy Gardner's video:
A group boating about 45 miles off Anna Maria Island got a big surprise in the shape of a 20,000 pound whale shark.
Mote scientists ask that anyone who spots a whale shark in the waters of Tampa Bay call its Center for Shark Research at (941) 388-1827 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scientists want spotters to note the number of sharks, the time, date and location. Scientists are looking for possible patterns to their movements in local waters.
Whale sharks are rare, but not protected under federal or state law.
For more information on whale sharks, click here.
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