National Whale Shark Day celebrates largest fish in the world

Over the years, boaters and anglers have had the pleasure of seeing whale sharks breach the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, near Pinellas or Sarasota counties. It’s been a common and welcoming sight in Tampa Bay.

National Whale Shark Day falls on Tuesday, August 30 – a day to celebrate and educate the world about the gentle giants and understand the conservation efforts surrounding them. 

Photo: A whale shark swims in the blue water of the Bohol Sea

A whale shark (Rhincodon types) swims in the blue water of the Bohol Sea, Philippines. This region is home to the biggest fish in the world and is an important habitat for this endangered animal. (Photo by: Steve De Neef/VW Pics/Universal Images Grou

They are a massive sight to see, and at least one fisherman in the Bay Area has had the pleasure of witnessing them two years in a row. It’s unclear whether the whale shark might be the same one, year after year, but the sightings are a sign whale sharks are able to thrive in the waters near Tampa Bay.

Captain David White with Anna Maria Charters spotted a whale shark about 35 miles off the coast back in May. The whale shark stayed right in front of their boat, in crystal blue water.

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Last year, nearly to the day, three whale sharks swam up to one of his boats in almost the exact same spot.

And the year before, Captain Josh from Siesta Kation Charters was greeted by a large whale shark about 12 miles offshore of Siesta Key. That’s about 50 miles north of Anna Maria Island.

In fact, whale sharks have been spotted near Tampa Bay between March and June for several years. 

In early June 2018, there were two sightings of a whale shark off Anna Maria Island. A few days later, vacationers spotted a large whale shark in the same area.

Five days later, boaters got an underwater look at a whale shark off St. Pete Beach.

One year and three days later, a FOX 13 viewer captured underwater video of a whale shark in the same spot.

And in June 2019, a fisherman saw a whale shark off Clearwater Beach.

According to the Georgia Aquarium, which houses its own whale sharks in a massive tank – along with mantra rays – it is the largest fish known to have lived on Earth.

They are known to live worldwide from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from Tampa Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

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While they are typically found offshore, they do come closer and frequent shallower areas near bays and coastal areas, sometimes during seasonal plankton blooms.

Speaking of plankton, their diet consists of mainly that. They enjoy inhaling krill, smaller fishes, such as sardines, and jellies. 

"The distribution of whale sharks indicates the presence of plankton and the overall health of our oceans," according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Photo: Whale shark eating plankton

DJIBOUTI, INDIAN OCEAN - NOVEMBER 2007: A whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is eating plankton on the surface on November 29, 2007, in the Gulf of Tadjourah, Djibouti, Indian Ocean. Djibouti is a world famous place for watching whale sharks, especially i

The largest measured whale shark is 61.7 feet. Its average length is between 18 and 32.8 feet. Newborns are between 21 and 25 inches long.

The whale shark is on the international list of endangered species. Entanglement in fishing nets, boat strikes, and ingesting marine debris or microplastics are just a few known threats to them.  

You can learn more about the whale shark species on WWF: