Chance of a lifetime or stupid stunt? That’s the question following a teenager who took it upon himself to swim with one of nature’s biggest creatures.
Last week, 19-year-old Chris Kreis was filmed riding a whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico, a move that has upset animal activists and drawn criticism from some experts, particularly now that the video has gone viral.
The biggest fish in the sea, whale sharks are commonly called gentle giants, since they “filter feed” on plankton as they swim, and are generally harmless to humans. In this case, the shark in question was 30-feet-long and about 50,000 pounds. Kreis saw it swimming near his boat off the coast of Florida, and promptly jumped in the water and hitched a ride, by grabbing the shark’s dorsal fin.
“I decided, you know what, maybe I should go try and swim with him. I might not be able to do it ever again,” Kreis says.
It didn’t take long for the animal to make it clear that it didn’t appreciate the human hitchhiker. Within nine seconds, the fish began to descend deeper, forcing Kreis to let go.
“When I started holding on I felt the whale shark, it started moving itself,” Kreis says. “He began to descend, and if something doesn’t want you on it, you might as well just let it go. It didn’t really want me on there so I let go.”
Although it’s not illegal to ride whale sharks (which are not endangered), it’s not in the best interest of the animal. According to marine biologist Bruce Neill, physical contact with humans can be harmful.
“When people spend a lot of time and [put] a lot of pressure on a fish it takes away that slime covering and potentially has negative health impacts for the fish. Because they are so very large, they could inflict some harm inadvertently,” he says.
ABC News covered the story this week and received plenty of comments from people who were none too pleased with Kreis’s actions.
“Leave wild creatures alone,” said one person. “They’re not there for your amusement. Whale sharks are very gentle creatures and who knows what kind of stress you caused it.”
Another wrote, “And there you have it! The complete lack of intelligence and conviction for protecting the ocean and all that dwell there.”
Despite the criticism, Kreis doesn’t regret his actions at all. “I would absolutely swim with another whale shark,” he says.
Check out the video below and then let us know what you think.