Rare whale shark pod sighting off coast of Anna Maria Island

- A fisherman spotted not one, but five whale sharks off the coast of Anna Maria Island. 

Jacob Campoamor was out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico with his family over the weekend when they spotted the sharks 40 miles off the coast. They’re considered to be gentle giants which eat plankton and fish eggs.

He said his family has been fishing in the area for 40 years. They’ve seen manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles but never a whale shark -- let alone five of them.

“We were amazed,” Jacob said to FOX 13. “We’ve got a 26-foot boat and the one that came right up to our boat, swam around it and was clearly longer. They’re massive.” 

It was also exciting for Mote Marine Lab scientists in Sarasota, who are hoping to locate those whale sharks and tag them. Dr. Bob Hueter said the tag will transmit information every time the animal comes to the surface, such as their GPS location.

"By tagging them and scoping out their ranges, we understand what countries, jurisdictions they go into,” he explained. “We understand the threats better that they face. These are vulnerable species, endangered in some parts of the world, and we're trying to protect them."

Eventually, those tags will be removed, and even if they can’t retrieve them, they’ll have lots of recorded information to better understand the species. If you see one, or more, take note of the time, date and location and contact the Mote Marine Lab at (941) 302-0976.

The last sighting like this off of the Gulf Coast was back in 2010, when a pod of 10 whale sharks was in the same area of the gulf. 

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