James Robert Bostwick is a Gulf of Mexico charter captain. He is also one of the very few people (we know of) to ever ride a shark. In early June, Bostwick came across a 30-foot whale shark off the coast of Florida and decided to hitch a ride. He swam up to the shark and grabbed onto its dorsal fin. Then he hung on for dear life as the shark swam. A friend took a video (below) and it was posted to Facebook.
After the video began to spread, people began questioning whether his behavior could be illegal. Riding a manatee is illegal in Florida, and several people have actually been arrested for doing this.
Though whale sharks are a protected species, technically it is legal to ride them. Or rather, there's no law on the books preventing it, probably because no legislator imagined someone would actually try to ride a whale shark. Bostwick was pretty relieved to learn it was legal, posting on his Facebook, "Redemption for all the nay sayers that said I was illegal" after the determination was made.
While it wasn't against the law, it is a pretty terrible idea. Sharks have a protective mucus layer on their skin, and when it is disturbed (as it can be when a human tries to ride one) it can hurt the shark's overall health. Also, whale sharks are gigantic. They are about the length of a bus and generally weigh about 20 tons. They can do some damage, even if they can't eat you.
Whale sharks consume plankton, not people, and while their five-foot wide mouths may look scary, Bostwick and the three other people who swam with the whale shark weren't in danger of getting eaten. You should still never try to ride one like this:
After a rare goblin shark popped up last month, two great white sharks were spotted heading towards the Texas coast out of season, and now a whale shark let a guy ride it, I feel like the sharks of the Gulf of Mexico are just messing with us humans.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.