A whale shark approaches a charter boat off the coast of Ocean City. Image from Fish in OC/ UnScene Productions video.

VIDEO: Close Encounter with World’s Largest Shark Species off Ocean City

“Is that a SHARK?”

“That’s a whale shark. They don’t eat people, just plankton.”

Three kids aboard a charter boat got a surprise while fishing in the Ocean City Marlin Club’s Kid Classic offshore last week. A whale shark, the world’s largest fish species reaching lengths up to 40 feet, decided to come over for a visit.

Captain Chris Watkowski estimates this one to be at least 30 feet long, judging by its comparison to the 43-foot Custom Carolina Spring Mix II.

Watkowski had his nine-year-old son Christian along for the tournament, along with 13-year-olds Ryan Lenox and Owen West. None of the boys had ever seen a whale shark in real life.

The Spring Mix II just happened to have a film crew on board when the gentle giant approached the boat. A crew from UnScene Productions was shooting video for Mid-Atlantic fishing TV show Hooked on OC at the time and managed to capture the large, spotted shark from above and underwater with a GoPro camera. Watch below:

Video: Fish in OC & UnScene Productions

The encounter lasted around two minutes as the whale shark swam around the boat, checking out the lobster ball the anglers were using to catch mahi-mahi.

The young boys on board were understandably excited, as Christian could be heard shouting, “Toss it some bait! Let’s see what it does!”

While the creature’s size was staggering, the anglers reassured the young boaters that whale sharks aren’t fearsome predators: they are filter feeders that swim with their wide mouths open, collecting plankton and small fish.

But even the seasoned anglers on board were impressed. In the video, you can hear the men exclaim, “Look at that thing, holy smoke!” and “Wow, what a massive animal.”

Capt. Watkowski says in 33 years fishing off of Ocean City, this is only the third whale shark he’s seen, and was happy to share the experience with his son.

“He was asking all day if we’d get to see a shark, and then we got lucky. Who knows when he’ll see that again!”

-Meg Walburn Viviano