Local expert reacts to recent whale shark sighting

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A local shark expert is urging people to think twice before getting too close to the largest fish in the water.

Wednesday, we reported the sighting of a Whale shark off the coast of Inlet Beach.

According to Research Fishery Biologist Dr. John Carlson, while the species isn't common here, seeing Whale sharks occasionally is not unheard of. Sometimes there are groups of them offshore Louisiana.

"People can swim with them," he explained. "However, some people take that to a bit of the extreme and they will climb on the animal. They will hang off the animal. While we don't know what the immediate impacts of this are, it really can't be good for the animal. It probably alters their behavior."

Dr. Carlson said state and federal laws prohibit you from catching them in fishing gear. He recommends giving the animal space.

"You may be accidentally hit by the tail. You may be accidentally hit by the body so it can be dangerous," he explained. "Keep a safe distance from the animal and do not climb on top of it."