We had a great couple of days diving some fantastic sites in Pensacola. One experience we had tops anything we’ve had in several years, and has the diving community abuzz with excitement: Whale shark! Nothing gets a diver’s blood pumping and heart beating like those two words. While diving on the USS Oriskany, we were shocked when one of these gentle giants showed up to check out our favorite dive site.
Whale sharks are the “gentle giants” of the ocean. Although in the shark family, they are filter feeders that only eat the smallest of animals, plankton. Whale sharks are considered one of the most sought after marine animals to encounter and on most diver’s bucket list. Many explain encounters with these gentle giants with words like “life changing “ and “most amazing dive ever.”
Divemaster Brad Riles of Niuhi Dive Charters was the first person in the water. “We arrived on-site first this morning, so we had the wreck to ourselves, briefly. I rolled in to tie us off to the wreck like I had done countless times before but this time was much different. After I had tied the line to the wreck and before I started my ascent, I spun around to look away from the ship and fifteen feet away was a 25-30 foot long whale shark hovering in the water at my depth checking me out. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. On both of our dives, the big fish did countless laps around the structure giving everyone a sight they won't soon forget. Was truly an unforgettable dive today on the Oriskany!”
Whale sharks are not common in Pensacola, but they do make their appearance from time to time. The last time a whale shark was sighted was in 2010, again off the USS Oriskany. In 2009, there were multiple sightings between Pensacola and Orange Beach documented by University of Southern Mississippi.
We’ve submitted our photos to the whale shark photo-identification library (www.whaleshark.org), which is a database where they match the unique spots, which are much like fingerprints in humans. We are excited to find out where our “Pensacola whale shark” has been traveling.