In an extremely rare moment, bystanders in San Diego were lucky enough to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event: seeing a whale shark swim freely.
The magical moment occurred on Labor Day and was captured by Captain Bryan McGrory, who steers the ship for San Diego Whale Watch. It happened on Labor Day with 149 people aboard who could witness the majestic sea creature.
“[This is] extremely rare,” said McGrory. “I’m thinking it’s a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.”
McGrory later explained that the group was watching a blue whale, thinking that would be the trip’s highlight. However, seconds later, someone on the bow began pointing at the water. That’s when McGrory saw a “big mass in the water.”
He added: “We didn’t know what it was at the time. We were thinking minke whale, basking shark, and then we saw all the spots of the whale shark.”
“So we put the boat into neutral and it approached us, came up to the surface, circled the boat.” said McGrory. “Everyone was losing it.”
According to McGrory’s estimates, he believes the whale shark was about 25 feet long. However, according to John Hyde, Ph.D., with NOAA Fisheries, scientists would consider this whale shark’s size “subadult” or about halfway done growing. Typically, whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet long.
Whale watching group treated to rare moment
Weather permitting, San Diego Whale Watch takes groups whale watching five to six days each week, as long as the weather permits. However, in McGrory’s four years with the company, he has never seen one of these whale sharks locally.
“I never leave the harbor thinking I’m going to see a whale shark, but that’s the beauty of the ocean,” said McGrory.
“Typically, these sightings are during El Niño or similar events,” said Hyde. “We’re currently in a La Niña pattern, which is typically cooler ocean temperature, but this year we’ve seen the waters warm up similar to what we see during El Niño years.”
Hyde added that while this is out of the ordinary, it is not the first time people have seen these sharks in southern California waters.
Boat crew gets rare glimpse of 30-foot whale shark
In addition, whale sharks are considered the largest fish in the ocean. If that scares you, fret not. The animals have no interest in humans and prefer eating tiny organisms such as plankton.
On the other side of the country, a crew on an overnight fishing trip off the coast of Cape Cod had an up close and personal encounter with a nearly 30-foot whale shark.
Nick Köeniger, a Boston resident, was one of eight aboard the boat when the crew saw what he called “the gentle giant.”
The crew was underway to Hydrographer Canyon, located southeast of the Cape and Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. This creature was believed to be around 25 to 30 feet long. It appeared in the water just before 4 a.m.
The boat was around 100 miles off the coast when the beast appeared. According to Köeniger, the whale shark swam to the vessel several times before going back under the water. Thankfully, the crew got pictures and videos of the moment.