Captain Brian Esteppe has probably seen some things during his time as a fishing charter captain, but the whale shark that recently circled his boat will undoubtedly go down as one of the most memorable.
Esteppe, who owns and operates Y Knot Fishing Adventures of Chincoteague, was about five miles off the coast of Virginia on a charter when he and those on board the Y Knot suddenly spotted a whale shark close by.
“Out of nowhere, it just appeared,” says Esteppe. He says the shark approached the boat and proceeded to swim all the way around it. The whale shark was close enough, the captain says, that he could reach down and touch it as it passed on the port side.
Esteppe says he started snapping pictures of the shark but quickly switched to video to capture the special encounter. Watch the video he shared with Bay Bulletin below:
The captain estimates that the shark was between 16 and 18 feet long, since it was just a few feet short of the 20-foot Y Knot. Although he knows friends who have seen whale sharks out in the Atlantic, this was the captain’s first time and knows it’s not an everyday occurrence. For Esteppe, it was the “right place, right time, right everything.”
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Professor Emeritus Jack Musick says whale sharks are found in warm waters, but sightings off the Virginia coast are likely to be few and far between. “Whale sharks are tropical, and occur world wide at tropical latitudes. A whale shark off Chincoteague would be exceedingly rare,” Musick tells Bay Bulletin.
The endangered whale shark is the largest fish in the ocean, and can grow up to 40 feet or more in length and weigh up to 50,000 pounds, according to National Geographic.Whale sharks are known to be gentle creatures, something Esteppe found to be true first-hand.
The captain recently lost a close family member and considers the encounter with the whale shark to be a meaningful one. “To have something so unique just appear…kinda wild,” he says. “An angel from above.”
–Laura Adams Boycourt