A whale shark seen off the Queensland coast is believed to be the first sighting of the giant creature in the area in more than 30 years.
Marine scientists are intrigued that the whale shark has strayed more than 1000km from its usual feeding grounds.
Dive operator Ken Holzheimer said he and his diving team saw the friendly filter-feeder while they were diving in a protected area off Stradbroke Island, 30km from Brisbane.
“The whale was visible the whole dive, within touching distance.”
Mr Holzheimer, who has been diving for 39 years, said the 5.5m juvenile was the first he had seen since the early ’70s.
“We used to get them in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but we haven’t seen one since,” he said.
Diver Paul Sorensen said he at first mistook it for a tiger shark.
“One of the divers pointed it out in the deep sea area, and we saw these two fins.
“At first I assumed it was a tiger shark because you don’t expect to see whale sharks this side of Australia. She saw us and came over and circled around us but was just having a look at us.”
Mantra Ray and Whale Shark Research Centre lead scientist Simon Pierce said whale sharks usually fed only in the Coral Sea, 1000km north.
“There’s a few places in the world where you can quite consistently see them, but it is only generally in the Coral Sea you consistently see them on the east coast.
“It is quite unusual to see them down this far. She’s probably just wandering, not migrating.”
Mr Pierce said the shark was probably in her mid-20s. The species can live for 100 years.