For a group of Southern California anglers on Sunday, the extremely rare sighting of a 15-foot whale shark more than made up for the lousy fishing.

“Coolest sighting, hands down,” Joey Engel, whose image accompanies this post, told For The Win Outdoors.

Engel, a deckhand for Dana Wharf Sportfishing, ventured offshore with friends in what would be a long and fruitless search for tuna. But the appearance of a whale shark, 35 miles southwest of Dana Point, broke the monotony of trolling.

Engel said the gentle giant hung out for about eight minutes and “did one circle before he left.”

Whale sharks, which feed on plankton, are the world’s largest fish and can measure 30-plus feet. They inhabit tropical and warm-temperate waters and are sometimes encountered off southern Mexico and in the Sea of Cortez. But only a handful of sightings have been documented off Southern California – all in late summer during the past six years.

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Engel said the water temperature at the 181 fathom spot, where they were fishing, was 72 degrees.

After the sighting of a 25-foot whale shark near Catalina on Sept. 15 2015 – five years to the day before Sunday’s sighting – Southern California-based shark expert Chris Lowe stated:

“I’d say that is very rare for our neck of the woods. I have heard accounts of occasional manta, scalloped hammerhead sharks, and wayward tiger sharks, but whale sharks are pretty rare this far north.”

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