China Mike's snorkel tour was passing Keahole Point on the Big Island on Monday when they suddenly saw it -- what he calls the Holy Grail of snorkeling -- a whale shark.
"Got them ready. Everyone got in the water. Had a great time. Got the chance of a lifetime," said Mike.
A chance of a lifetime for the customers, yes, but it was about to be just as special for China Mike himself.
"As soon as I got in, I noticed the notch on the tip of the whale shark tail and that told me that was the same whale shark that I had swam with on Christmas Eve in 1996," said Mike.
China Mike encountered the whale shark off the Kaiwi Point on the Kona Coast. Apparently, this whale shark likes Hawaii -- Mike says he's been spotted off Molokini in 2004 and 2008.
"That's the largest of all the whale sharks that I've ever swam with," said Mike. "That guy is easily 45-feet-long. One big buggah."
What's it like swimming next to these gentle giants?
"You're just so awestruck by the sheer size, first of all, and how amazingly docile and receptive to human contact this whale shark is," said Mike. "It goes out of its way to let people come. I mean, it swims right towards you."
China Mike says he's swam with perhaps a dozen whale sharks since he began his tours in 1989, but says this swim just might top them all.
"It's like seeing an old friend again, and it just gives you a good feeling knowing that you know even though humanity is fumbling and bumbling its way across the planet, you know other things are still surviving and doing well," said Mike.