Swimming with sharks is generally not advisable.
However, the exception to this rule might be the big, lovable whale shark — a filter-feeding carpet shark that’s the largest known fish still in existence.
According to WTVT, Ryan Winters got the thrill of swimming alongside one of these gentle giants earlier this month during a spearfishing trip that took place about 30 miles off the coast of Tampa Bay, Florida
After Winters and his friend spotted the whale shark, both immediately dove in to get a better look. At first, they were hoping that a cobia — a large, edible game fish — was swimming underneath the shark.
“When we realized there wasn’t we decided to swim and hang out with him for a while,” Winters told WTVT. “It was truly a gift to be able to see and experience something like that.”
Take a look at the incredible video footage, which Winters posted to Facebook, below:
In the Facebook post, Winters, who had never seen a whale shark before, summarized his adventures with the incredible creature.
“Once in a lifetime encounter with a whale shark yesterday,” he wrote.
“Spotted this guy 30 miles offshore in 80ft of water. Was hoping there would be some cobia riding along with him, but there wasn’t. We enjoyed swimming with this gentle giant for an hour. We think he was about 20ft long.”
Winters said he got a firsthand look at the oceanic food chain and was amazed at how crucial the whale shark is to the ecosystem.
“He was feeding, so we stayed kind of behind him,” Winters told WTVT. “We kind of got to see the whole ecosystem that can be behind a big whale shark like that.”
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the whale shark is an endangered species that can be found in warm, tropical waters.
Its size is like that of no other fish, stretching up to a whopping 40 feet and weighing as much as 11 tons.
Winters’ experience with the whale shark is not an uncommon interaction for those coming into contact with the gentle giant, as they “sometimes allow swimmers to hitch a ride,” National Geographic noted
In terms of size, the runner-up to the whale shark is the basking shark, another filter-feeding creature that eats plankton.
In fact, one was spotted off the coast of Maine on Monday, which prompted the town of York to issue a cautionary advisory.
Check out this video of the basking shark below:
These kinds of incredibly large creatures prove just how truly awesome nature can be. I can only imagine what else swims the depths of the world’s oceans.
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