Lifelong diver Bryan Armstrong says it was the one thing he’s always wanted to see underwater. For Craig Dietrich, it was a moment he’s waited his whole life for.
“My adrenaline’s running because of the fact of here I am, I have a camera in my hands, this is definitely a very unique opportunity – you got to get a shot,” he said.
They’re talking about their up-close encounter with a 30-foot whale shark off Hillsborough Inlet. A group from Pompano Dive Center went out for a routine dive Sunday morning – but they, along with people from another boat, ended up having the dive of a lifetime.
“The joke was did we see mermaids also, because nobody would believe that we were about to see a whale shark,” said Dietrich, who is a diving photographer.
They found the giant, gentle creature about a half-mile offshore, just outside of Pompano Pier, in 60 feet of water. Whale sharks are rarely seen off the coast of South Florida.
“It would just come swim right towards you, and you’d think, ‘Ah, I got to get out of the way, this is a shark,’ but then you remember, ‘oh, OK, it’s got no teeth, it’s no big deal,’” said Armstrong, who is the general manager of the Pompano Dive Center.
He called the experience “amazing.” The whale shark hung around the divers for about an hour before swimming away, Armstrong said.
“This happened right off our shore. It didn’t happen in Mexico or Honduras or places that people fly to go see this thing,” he said. “It happened right here in Pompano Beach.”