Two spearfishermen experienced a heart stopping moment in the deep waters of the southern Atlantic ocean when a giant whale shark crashed into one of them, catching the hapless diver unawares.
Chris Coates was diving in deep water off Ascension Island, with a friend, filming a spearfishing adventure movie when the incident occurred, according to The Daily Mail. Distracted by a fish caught between the two, Coates was blind to the shark’s approach. His dive partner spied the animal first and signaled him, yet it was too late for Coates to avoid the giant shark.
The whale shark, which can grow to be 32 feet long, appears behind Coates and barrels into him as if unaware of his presence, striking him in the lower torso. Luckily for him, the whale shark is distinctly different from other, more predatory species of shark. In place of deadly teeth, it sports filter pads that allow it to feed on plankton and small fish.
Spotted, striped and sleek, this whale shark glides effortlessly in the lighted Caribbean. pic.twitter.com/wLZ4UojRl0
— #ItsASharkThing (@Shark_Toothday) September 3, 2014
Coates, who is from Zululand, South Africa, was also struck on the head by the shark’s dorsal fin, according to The Mirror. He was not seriously injured, however, and was able to catch the rest of the moment on video as the whale shark passed him by.
— WWF UK (@wwf_uk) September 1, 2014
Despite the close encounter, whale sharks are considered to be extremely docile. The world’s largest fish, there has never been a recorded incident of them attacking or purposely injuring a human. Often, whale sharks will allow divers to catch a ride, although the practice is generally frowned upon by many marine biologists.
Though harmless, the whale shark faces as much danger from humans as any other marine species. Traditionally targeted by commercial fisheries, their actual population is unknown. Despite the fact that they are considered to be vulnerable, whale sharks are still hunted in parts of Asia.
A dead whale shark is carried on a tractor at a seafood market in Quanzhou, east China’s Fujian province pic.twitter.com/8u0LgSXXQF
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) August 4, 2014
In early August, a Chinese fisherman made headlines when he captured a juvenile whale shark, 16 feet in length, and brought it to market, strapped atop a truck. Though he hoped to sell it for a tidy sum, the shark died in transport, significantly lowering its value.
Despite the harrowing encounter with the whale shark, Coates was able to return to diving the next day.
[Image via The Daily Mail]