Imagine you’re diving off the beautiful shores of the Gulf of Mexico and suddenly a shadowy and very large figure emerges behind you. A whale shark nearly as large as a three story building is just feet away.
It was an experience Jeff Leto, LexJet’s product manager, never thought he would have, especially in the shallow Gulf waters off the coast of Sarasota, Fla. But none the less he spent nearly an hour swimming alongside a 25-foot whale shark on Saturday, even capturing the encounter on film.
Leto and four of his friends had spent the day diving and spear fishing. They were on their last dive at Fin Barge, an upside down wreck not far off of Anna Maria Island, when they spotted the shark, who remained in the area with them for almost an hour.
It was a shocking site and not just because of the sharks enormous size. “It’s an endangered species, really rare and not typically in these waters,” said Leto.
Leto has been diving and spear fishing since he was 16 and has never seen a whale shark before. He explained that whale sharks are not native to the local area and at best would generally have only passed through, moving from warmer to colder climates, “They prefer a deeper colder ocean. It’s really rare to see them in 80 feet of water just a few miles off shore. They first started coming down here a year ago after the oil spills, and they’re still in the area,” said Leto.
Leto and his group were never in any danger from the shark. Though their vast size and striking features suggest otherwise, whale sharks are docile creatures. “They’re harmless. Whale sharks are filter feeders, they eat plankton and stuff like that, just like a whale,” Leto said.
In fact of all the things in the water that day, the whale shark was the least of their worries. “We saw lots of bull sharks, which kind of put a hindrance on spear fishing. When you see one of those guys around you stop fishing,” said Leto, explaining that bull sharks account for most local shark attacks.
Bull sharks or not it was a day Leto will surely never forget. “That was a once in a lifetime experience; I’ll probably never see one again.”
Check out the full video below, courtesy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune…