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Whale of a tale: Giant whale shark spotted off Florida coast

Rare sight spotted 12 miles from Siesta Key

SIESTA KEY, Fla. – Anyone who charters a fishing boat off either Florida coast hopes to come home with a big catch, but sometimes the catch is whale of a tale instead of a fish dinner. That’s what happened for Florida native Alexa Groat and her family this week when they encountered whale shark in the wild.

Groat said they hired Capt. Josh Pritchett with Siesta Kation Charters for a fishing Charter out of Siesta Key Tuesday to celebrate her sister’s birthday when the wild encounter happened. Siesta Key is just south of Sarasota on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Groat said after an amazing day on the water they were headed back in and about 12 miles off the coast when they saw some movement in the water.

“We thought we saw giant birds or fins playing in the distance. We weren’t sure what we were seeing but we were in awe once we got closer and realized we were experiencing a wild whale shark!” Goat said. “As we got closer, the shark was not fazed and continued to cruise along the side of the boat, it even swam under the bow at one point!”

Groat said they were close enough to reach down and touch the gentle giant but they didn’t. Groat said growing up living in Florida she’s never had an experience like this one.

Photos of a whale shark spotted off Siesta Key on May 5, 2020. (Image credit: @alexadgroat on Instagram)
Photos of a whale shark spotted off Siesta Key on May 5, 2020. (Image credit: @alexadgroat on Instagram) (WKMG 2020)

Despite shark in the name, whale sharks are not predators to humans, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, but have been known to bump a few boats due to their large size.

“We would have jumped in to swim with the gentle creature but we were scared of what might be lurking under him,” Groat said.

Known as the largest living fish running in length up to 20 meters whale sharks feed on plankton, small crustaceans, schooling fishes and sometimes tuna and squids, according to the Florida Museum. They can be identified by their unique checkerboard markings that run along their back and sides.

"This was truly the most amazing sight we have ever seen, and it just goes as a reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful world.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic with less traffic in waterways, sky and on the roads environmental authorities have reported a reduction in pollution which could be the cause for some rare wildlife sightings. Earlier this week three sawfish were spotted in the Indian River and images from NASA show a sharp decrease in pollutants resulting in a clearer sky.

Check out the Groat’s video at the top of this story. All photos and video are courtesy of instagram.com/alexadgroat/

Photos of a whale shark spotted off Siesta Key on May 5, 2020. (Image credit: @alexadgroat on Instagram)
Photos of a whale shark spotted off Siesta Key on May 5, 2020. (Image credit: @alexadgroat on Instagram) (WKMG 2020)

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