Capt. Brian Esteppe told The Virginia-Pilot that he was about 5 miles off shore with two customers who had chartered his boat when he saw the massive fish swimming nearby.
"We just kinda see this object appear," Esteppe told the Pilot, describing it as a "big dark shadow."
Esteppe recorded the encounter and posted the video to social media.
“You will not believe this folks,” he said as the shark swam near the boat. “Man, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. … Oh, my God, that’s so wild.”
Whale sharks, an endangered species, are the largest fish in the sea and are found in all the tropical oceans, according to National Geographic. They can grow as large as 40 feet long and weigh as much as 20 tons. They feed predominantly on plankton and small fish.
Esteppe said he recognized the shark by the gray and white spots on its body and was able to touch it as it swam by, the Pilot reported.
“It was just a beautiful sight,” he said, adding that it “swam off just as graceful as it came in.”