PANAMA CITY BEACH — Parasailers were in the air, a jet skier was cruising in the waves and in the middle of it all a whale shark was peacefully gliding along the coast of Panama City Beach on Thursday.
“That’s the coolest,” said Sachel Ohlman-Vance who recorded a video of the encounter on his iPhone and shared it to the “I love Panama City Beach” original Facebook group, where it has been liked over 1,000 times.
Whale sharks, with their distinctive speckled markings and ginormous size, are spotted every few years in Bay County. The last known sighting was in October 2016, when Reese Southerlin, a jet ski operator at Paradise Watersports, filmed one about 300 yards off the coast in front of Summerhouse Condominiums.
“It was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen,” Southerlin said at the time. “It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, reaching up to about 40 feet, according to National Geographic. They can be found in all tropical seas but are not often spotted close to shore.
Carpet feeders, the whales eat mostly plankton and rarely bother the fish they tend to school alongside them.
As of 2016, they are considered an endangered species, after the most recent stock assessment showed population declines likely caused by fishing and boat strikes. They are fished for in places such as China and Oman, but harvest in prohibited in Florida where they are protected.
Have a fish tale? Catch or see something interesting this last week? Send an email to email@example.com or call 522-5114.