SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- A Venice scuba diving charter captain says he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he saw a whale shark swimming off the coast of Venice.
Captain Jamie Bostwick says he jumped in the water and hitched a ride with the massive creature.
Bostwick says he found a whale shark last week swimming 16 miles off the coast of Venice, so he jumped into the water for a closer look. “It was one of the highlights of being on the water. I have been on the water for 20-30 years and seeing a whale shark was at the top.”
Bostwick is a scuba diving charter captain and has seen lots of sea life over the years, but he said swimming with a whale shark was a life-long goal. “It was just one of those highlights on the bucket list. I accomplished a major bucket list item. It was one of the top ones I ever wanted to do.”
He was so excited to be swimming with massive creator that he even hitched a ride by holding onto the whale shark's dorsal fin. “I only was able to really swim and ride with it for a couple minutes, and I more less let go because I wanted to let someone else have that opportunity.”
First mate Lori Dillender jumped at the opportunity. She said the massive fish was as big as the boat. “And I could believe the size of the head and then the dorsal fin was so far away so you knew that this was just humongous and then the very end of the tail was way back there so the thing was just huge.”
Scientists from Mote Marine Lab say the whale shark was most likely feeding, and grabbing onto the animal could affect or change its behavior.
But Bostwick believes it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he said he would do it again if he had the chance. “If that fish ever felt threaten or harmful at all, we were in 60 foot of water and it simply just would have left and it kept coming back to the boat. It was just as curious about us as we were of it.”
Mote scientists say swimming with whale sharks if fine as long as you don't touch. They say taking pictures of the spots on the left side of the whale shark behind his head can help identify the whale sharks. The spot pattern in that area is unique to individual whale sharks.
The FWC discourages anyone from trying to touch or interact with any wildlife, but a spokesperson tells ABC 7 that there is no rule, law or regulation preventing anyone from touching or even riding a whale shark.