Gentle Giant

Whale shark cruises through Destin

Tina Harbuck
A whale shark was spotted about 2 miles off the beach of Destin earlier this week. The crew aboard the Fa La Me with Gulf-Angler Charters and Capt. Drew Fusco got an upclose look at the 20-foot shark. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

It might not have been the shark most people were looking for during Shark Week, but right on cue, a 20-foot whale shark made an appearance just off the beach of Destin this week.

The shark didn’t pose a threat to beach goers, and instead was quite welcomed by those who got a glance of the rare docile but huge shark.

“We were trying to bait fish and we looked off at a distance and saw a kind of thrashing on the water,” said Capt. Tommy Carter of the Blue Runner II. “Didn’t know if it was a thresher shark or a whale shark.”

So they drove closer to check it out.

Once they got close they realized it was whale shark.

“It was kind of a juvenile whale shark,” Carter said. “It was about 20 feet long instead of 40 feet.”

The whale shark is a slow-moving filter feeding shark and can grow to 40 feet in length or more.

“He came right up to the back of the boat,” said Carter, noting he’s seen a couple of whale shark before about 20 years ago. “It’s pretty rare.”

A couple of other boats pulled up to see it as well, he said.

The whale shark is pretty harmless to people.

“They are just docile. He was just swimming along with his mouth open … it was pretty cool,” Carter said.

Capt. Drew Fusco of the Fa La Me with Gulf-Angler Charters and his group of fishermen also got a chance to see the whale shark up close and personal.

Fusco and his group were out trolling for king mackerel when he got a call from Capt. Destyn Dreading about a whale shark sighting.

So they ventured over to check it out. The whale shark was about 2 miles off the beach behind The Back Porch, a restaurant on the beach on the east end of Destin.

“We saw two huge fins sticking out of the water,” Fusco said. “It was very docile … you could see her cruising and eating with her mouth open … it was cool.

“I’ve been here 27 years and never seen one,” he added.

As for his anglers, they were in awe.

“The clients were excited,” Fusco said. “They come out on a four-hour trip and get to see this on their first time out.”

The whale shark wasn’t scared of the boat and swam right under them.

Fusco said the whale shark was as wide as his 8-foot 6-inch wide boat. The shark let them get close enough that one of the anglers was able to reach out and touch it.

After a few photos and video, the group moved on and fished.

Fusco had another trip later in the day and spotted the whale shark again about a mile to the west where he’d seen it earlier.

“It was pretty cool,” Fusco said.

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The Fishing Report with The Ships Chandler and Tina Harbuck