ANNA MARIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Last weekend, Jacob Campoamor was fishing with his family about 40 miles off the coast of Anna Maria Island when he spotted a rare sight -- whale sharks.

A 22-second video from Campoamor shows multiple whale sharks swimming around the boat. He said they saw five of the sharks and the creatures hung around for about 20 minutes before disappearing.

"We thought it might be a couple sharks attacking something so we went to go check it out," Campoamor said. "As we got closer we realized it was just one giant whale shark."

Whale sharks are filter-feeders, similar to baleen whales, and feed almost exclusively on plankton. They aren’t known to pose any threat to humans, but Campoamor and his family still kept their distance.

"We were amazed at the size and though we knew this was a rare sighting, we had no idea exactly how rare it was until we heard the stats from Mote," he said. "It was an incredible experience."

Mote Marine Laboratory said it received a report of the five whale sharks and in a statement asked the public to immediately report new sightings from the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Bob Hueter, Senior Scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote, said “it’s exciting” because the report “suggests they might be feeding on something in a special spot.”

Photo: Jacob Campoamor

“It’s important to understand where these sharks migrate, feed and carry out other key parts of their life cycles so that resource managers can successfully protect them,” Hueter said in a release.

The laboratory said whale sharks occasionally visit the coastal waters of southwest Florida to feed on local blooms of plankton or fish eggs. The sharks can grow up to 45 feet long and are easily identified by their polka dot coloration.

Mote Marine said if other sightings are reported, Hueter and other scientists want to attach satellite tags to one or more of the whale sharks to collect data on their location and habitats. Mote said the tags can send back real-time signals with data about the sharks’ traveling patterns, depth and temperature.

Mote Marina asks that the public immediately report any sightings of whale sharks to Hueter at 941-302-0976.

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