Published: May 21, 2013 2:51 PM EDT

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mote Marine Laboratory scientists in Sarasota are asking members of the public to immediately report any sightings of whale sharks along southwest Florida’s coast.

A whale shark, the largest fish species on Earth, was seen May 8 about 20 miles off Venice. These gentle filter-feeding fish are seen in various places in the Gulf of Mexico and sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to feed on localized blooms of plankton or possibly on fish eggs. Mote scientists are collecting reports of whale shark sightings to look for possible patterns to their movements in our waters.

Please report whale shark sightings immediately by calling Mote’s Center for Shark Research at 941-388-1827. Please note the number of whale sharks you saw along with the time, date and location (GPS coordinates if possible). Please provide your phone number and/or e-mail and note whether you can provide photos.