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Rare sighting: Torrance man spots whale shark off Southern California coast

By Leanne Suter

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    CATALINA ISLAND, California (KABC) — Could more whale sharks be heading for the California coast?

A Torrance man recently got the thrill of a lifetime when he came across the rare creature off the Southern California shore, and more could be on the way.

“A lot of people often think of whale sharks as whales, they mistakenly think of them as whales, but they’re not. They’re actually sharks,” said Chris Lowe, the director of CSULB’s Shark Lab.

Whale sharks are mainly found in the tropics around the globe like in the Philippines, but Southern California is not a normal destination. Which is why when Carl Sbarounis saw one – he couldn’t contain his excitement.

“It was quite unusual, and I was like flabbergasted,” he told ABC7. “It was great to see it.”

Sbarounis captured the surprising sight just a few miles off the coast of Catalina Island, two days in a row! The fish spotter and commercial fisherman searches the sea from the air for fisheries. Along the way, he got an extremely rare view of a whale shark.

“I’ve been doing this 38 years and I’ve seen one about 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “I saw actually two last year. One down by San Diego, and the same one twice by Catalina.”

From above to below the surface, I got the chance to see these fantastic fish face-to-face, swimming with them in Oslob, Philippines. I got to see them take in gallons of water as they filter out their favorite food of plankton and krill. It was an amazing sight to be so close to one of the largest creatures in the ocean, and they wanted nothing do with us.

Back home in the Pacific, experts are wondering if more whale sharks may show up soon, drawn in by a warm El Niño winter.

“When we see whale sharks, we also tend to see [manta rays] We see a lot of other kind of subtropical species,” said Lowe. “We’ll get mahi-mahi coming in, we’ll get sailfish and things like that that we don’t normally see in Southern California. With a strong El Niño potentially being predicted, who knows?”

Fun facts! Whale sharks – on average – are about 35 feet long but grow to be up to 60 feet long, weighing roughly 30,000 lbs.

Plus, they can live up to be 130 years old!

Whale sharks give birth to 2-foot-long babies – about 300 of them at a time – but very few survive, which makes a sighting much more special.

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