SARASOTA, Fla., June 18 (UPI) -- A Florida man recently had quite a thrill, taking a brief ride on the back of an enormous whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico. The video of the epic ride has since gone viral.
"The fish was as big as the boat, 30 feet long," said James Bostwick, a charter boat captain in Sarasota. "The whale shark basically came right to us, yeah, it was as curious about us as we were about it."
But video-watchers shouldn't get too excited and rush out to try the trick themselves. While experts say its not illegal to hitch a ride on a whale shark, it is ill-advised -- not because they're a risk to humans, but the other way around.
"The problem with touching them is they have a mucous layer on the skin that is disturbed when touched too much it can compromise the health of the animal in the long run," explained Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory.
Whale sharks are docile creatures; they feed by filtering tiny fish and crustaceans from the sea through their giant mouths.
The World Wildlife Fund lists the whale shark as a protected species. In some parts of the world, they are prized by poachers for their meat, fins and oil.