Shark scare pauses swimming competition, but was creature actually a shark?

Shark scare pauses swimming competition, but was creature actually a shark?

Outdoors

Shark scare pauses swimming competition, but was creature actually a shark?

Distance swimmers in the annual Swim the Loop competition in North Carolina were trying to focus on their strokes Saturday when cries of “Shark!” filed the air.

Concern was understandable. A large dorsal fin sliced across the surface of the Intracoastal Waterway, near a dock where crews stood to welcome returning athletes. Beneath the fin was a hulking shape; certainly a creature worth keeping an eye on.

The accompanying footage, captured by Kristen Jeno, features the shouted warnings and shows the massive creature, whose presence prompted a 5-minute delay in the competition.

“I’ve never seen something quite that size,” Jeno told The State.

Video screen grab

But it would turn out, after the race ended safely and experts had a chance to review the footage, that the shark-like fin most likely belonged to a Mola mola, or ocean sunfish.

RELATED: Surfer uses surfboard to fend off shark after getting bitten

Mola molas, which are the planet’s largest bony fish and can reach weights of 5,000 pounds, are gentle giants that roam ocean currents feeding on sea jellies and small fishes.

Mola mola in the open ocean. Photo courtesy of ©Daniel Botelho

They’re sometimes mistaken for sharks from a distance because of the shape of their dorsal fins. But up close their bodies are truncated and slab-like.

Robin Nalepa of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, told WWAY that the creature in Jeno’s video is almost certainly a Mola mola based on the way it swam.

Jeno affectionately nicknamed the fish “Fluffy the shark” in her Facebook description.

Swim the Loop is a 3.5 open-water race from Wrightsville Beach around Harbor Island. This year’s event was scheduled for Sept. 23, but delayed because of Hurricane Florence.

–Top images are video screen grabs; bottom image showing a Mola mola is courtesy of ©Daniel Botelho

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