Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Angler jumps overboard to ride 30-foot whale shark

Though massive creatures are docile, Florida teen's action may be regarded as irresponsible and unhealthy for the majestic plankton-eaters

whaleshark

It must have been exciting for Chris Kreis merely to encounter a 30-foot shark swimming just a few feet beneath the surface. But not nearly as exciting as jumping overboard and riding the behemoth. The 19-year-old was fishing recently about 30 miles off Captiva, Florida, when he identified the massive creature as a whale shark. They’re harmless plankton-eaters, Meyer thought, so he jumped in, grabbed onto the creature’s dorsal fin, and enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime.

Dangerous? Not especially. Whale sharks are docile and divers swim with them routinely in some parts of the world. However, they’re large and powerful, and in some cases divers have been injured by the mere movements of the world’s largest of fishes.

Irresponsible? Yes. Riding whale sharks is frowned upon virtually everywhere, as it places added stress on the sharks, and alters their behavior.

Whale sharks, which can measure 40-plus feet and weigh more than 20 tons, inhabit tropical waters around the world and are listed as vulnerable, and still hunted in some regions—notably parts of Asia.

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral

Fortunately, Kreis realized he had acted impulsively and released his grip after only about 10 seconds.

“When I started holding on I felt the whale shark—it started moving itself—it felt the drag, and it didn’t really want me on there, so I let go and that’s it,” he told NBC 2.

Said marine biologist Bruce Neill: “When people spend a lot of time and pressure on a fish it takes away a slime that covers the fish. They need that layer to stay healthy. Losing it potentially has negative health impacts for the fish.”

Concluded Kreis: “I would jump in if I saw one again, but next time I wouldn’t touch the fish.”