Saturday, July 16, 2011

encounter with the gentle giant - donsol

almost unbelievable that despite the technology for marine study has evolved for years, a lot of things about the whale sharks remains a mystery. it was just only 2years ago that the locals in Donsol Sorsogon in the Philippines first recorded a baby whale shark. National Geographic featured it in their article "Smallest Whale Shark Discovered".
it was the whale shark season again and we headed far South of Manila, where the largest number of these species in the Philippines are sighted every year. from February to May, the volume of planktons are enormous in the isolated village of Donsol. way back 2004, Time magazine named the Whale Shark interaction in the Philippines as the best destination for animal interaction.

as the years has passed, the volume of tourists both local and foreigners has increased. this lead the locals and WWF Philippines to develop a program to protect the sea giants and help sustain the locals to benefit from it. part of the program was the creation of the Donsol Tourist Center that established:
1. Video briefing for the do's and donts to maximize safe interaction
2. Limited number of boats allowed offshore
3. Limited number of boats allowed for a certain area of the whale sharks
4. Limited number of people per boat
5. Required wooden tool to protect the whale shark's tail from hitting the boats propellers.
after registration and video briefing, we were assigned to a boat, a guide, a boatman, and spotters. on peak season, one has to wait until the next boat returns. snorkeling gears and flippers are available for rent outside the center. sky turned darker and started to drizzle.
as soon as our group was called we went to our assigned boat, the guide gave the final orientation and some facts on the butanding, the local name of whale shark. our boat headed West and the spotters positioned on top of the boat's pillars.
after half an hour the sky was darker, still no sighting. we instead saw a group of dolphins off the shore to Masbate. after an hour, the whole group was still excited but the chance of seeing became less. at that time, i said "one sighting will be enough".
as the guide would always say, there's really no guarantee of seeing. the guide says that one factor that would cause the whale sharks to go deeper would be the dark skies as it signified rain and rough waters. we were also there in May, where the whale sharks were already migrating off the Pacific.
we went farther but still navigating along the nearby coast where the most number of sightings observed during that week. passed by some other boats, all with its own spotters showing no sign of giving up. we remained hopeful enjoying some of facts of the sharks from the guide.
until the time when all the boats went to the same direction. a sighting. finally! just as our guide directed us, we all positioned on one side waiting for the cue to jump. snorkeling gears and lifevest ready and as soon as the boat was in position the guide instructed "jump, follow me and look down".
water was blurry, no sign of what was supposed to be large and massive. suddenly a large and wide grayish fish passed about two meters below us. it was swimming gently so close that it seemed like it was already hitting the sea floor. we were actually just less than 20feet deep.
swam as quick and as far as i could to catch up with the whale shark. soon as it went off the blurry waters, found out that i was already far away from my group. had to swim back and find the boat assigned to us. the experience was amazing adding to the fact that we've waited for more then an hour.we then went ahead the direction of the whale and just while were still sharing our own experience, our guide shouted "position your self". we were to jump again for another encounter. the whale shark that we've seen was about 7meters, still a young one as sightings of adults were seen here reaching up to 10-12meters. after three encounters, we headed to another spot. this time, far off the coast in the East. we learned from our guide that whale sharks' top portion are the hardest part. used to protect it from its predator the great white shark. when we reached the spot, in just few minutes we saw the shade of another whale shark. it was surfacing that it was that clear even from the boat. we were in position again and this time, the whale shark passed by so close. just about two feet away that with a slight stretch of my arm i will actually touch its side but holding it was prohibited.

this one was really huge and the white spots were very visible. the fins, the tail, large. just as we went up, everyone was cheering. we did more jumps and ended up heading back the coast with three whale sightings and seven encounters. the experience was superb that i'll definitely be back next year.

just borrowed the video from Lenka in youtube.

how to get there:
by land: one can take a bus from Manila to Legazpi City in Albay (8hours) and take a van at the central van terminal to Donsol Sorsogon (1hour).
by air: there are daily flights from Manila to Legazpi City (1hour) and take the van to Donsol at the central van terminal of Legazpi.
when you reach Donsol, inform the van driver to drop you at the Donsol Tourist Center for the Whale Shark Interaction.

eskapo recommends:
1. sightings of whale sharks in Donsol are from February to May but the best time is February when the whale sharks are still in large volumes.
2. if you really want to catch up with the whales, you can rent fins but as caution, make sure that you don't hit the shark with these.
3. van trips to Legazpi are limited and has no schedule, so if possible arrange with the van drivers to wait for you giving them your estimated time of return which you can confirm from the tourist center.

escape factor:
accessibility: 3.5
coastal view: 3.5
tourist center system: 4.0
animal encounter: 5.0
overall: 4.0

island: mainland Luzon
province: Sorsogon
gateway: Legazpi City

GPS location:

12^ 54" 17' N
123^ 35" 44' E


Kura said...

wow! I've been wanting to do this too after my dolphin watching experience in Bohol. Nabitin ako, and I'm still craving for more. Boring na ang Whale and Dolphin spotting lang. Imagine swimming with these huge creature. That was awesome! Thanks for sharing. I badly need this. Target ko na yan next year.

nina said...

Finally! :D

tina said...

waaaaaah! Super inggit! huhuhu!

Chyng said...

Thriller post! =)
But the ending was a delight. May araw din sakin yang mga butanding na yan. I'll get my fins and snorkel set ready.

escape said...

>malditang kura-cha, youll definitely love this. i recommend that you go there on Feb where they often surface and are still in large numbers.

ill look forward to your experience next year. im going back too.

>Nina, hahaha... yes. fianlly.

>Tina, let's go there next year.

>Chyng, yihaa! tingin ko magkikita kita tayo dun.

Ed said...

awesome encounter indeed. was supposed to go there june 2 pero proceeded to Manila instead for a business trip. sayang din sana but like chyng, may araw din sakin ang mga butanding na yan!

Theonoski said...

these whale shark are so huge!i almost panicked when i saw his huge mouth just below my feet. LoL!! it was a priceless experience!! Love it!

congrats for seeing the butanding up-close.i saw it too, though in the comfort of the boat nga lang LoL!

Reena said...

i don't know how to dive. pwede ba kahit snorkling skills lang?

i hope to catch them too soon.

alicesg said...

OMG, looked scary on the encounter with the shark. You all looked like food to the shark lol. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Nice post.

Luna Miranda said...

Dom, is it possible to have goosebumps under water? a close encounter with this gentle giant would definitely give me goosebumps. this must be an awesome experience. i'm not a good swimmer, the reason why i didn't go to Donsol when we were n Bicol last year.

escape said...

>Ed, buti na rin di mo tinuloy kasi usually pagJune, mahirap na makakita. even in May chance is less.

Better do it next year. sabayan mo si Chyng. lol

>Theo, hahaha... sino nga naman di magugulat kung para kang kakainin. experience was indeed priceless.

>Reena, yes. you're wearing lifevest so it really wont be difficult.

>Alicesg, we sure did. with its size. the ones weve were actually just that of young adults.

>Luna, maybe at first for some. in my case, i found it fun swimming with it. regret was i didnt rent for fins. i hope you get to do it there next year.

bertN said...

Isn't it difficult to dive with a life vest on?

Photo Cache said...

very exciting when one sees these creatures up close. kakatakot din also.

pusangkalye said...

ang galing!!!!!daming tandang padamdam kasi na-excite ako habang binabasa at pinanuod yung video. Snorkel lang pala.kala ko you need to dive deep na mala-scuba pa to see them kaya iniiwasan ko tong topic na to dati.pag sinabi nila whale shark watching---sabi ko lang ah okay---which shows I am not that interested. pero dahil dito.gusto ko na!!!!hahahaha. kelan ba. so kung season ngyn--by december ba wala na Dom? awts.

isa pa pala.kala ko special treatment ang group nyo at me video watching pa lahat pala yun no? natuwa pa pala ako don sa mga pics ng boat tas yung mga bangkero andun talaga sa taas nakatayo no? para lang me gyera tas nag-babantay sila sa mga parating na kalaban sa dagat.ang weird ata ng imagination ko.hahaha

pusangkalye said...

natuwa ako sa comment nila ed at Chyng---"'may araw din sakin yang butanding na yan"pwedeng I 3rd the motion. palitan ko ng mas malupit at direct. "" MAY ARAW KA RIN SAKING BUTANDING KA!!!lol"" lab yu gentle giant.hahaha

lakwatsera de primera said...

First time kong mag swim kasama ang butanding, naiiwanan ako lagi kasi hindi ako nagrent ng fins sa kakatipid, kaya noong sumunod mega snorkel na with fins and mask :)

gillboard said...

unforgettable, ain't it?

flipnomad said...

to be in the presence of great animals is such a humbling experience... cant describe yung feeling when i also swam with the whale sharks sa donsol...

Eds said...

weeehhhh! finally. pumunta din kayo ng donsol. magkano na pala boat rental don? dati kasi ng pumunta kami nasa 2500 na.

docgelo said...

the way you wrote this post was riveting. akala ko may picture ka na katabi ng butanding, haha!
nice one, dom!

Giselle said...

feeling ko maiiyak ako sa sobrang tuwa if i get that close to a butanding.. :) nakakaingit!

James Younghusband said...

i've been planning to visit donsol but everytime where in cwc my group doesn't want to leave the place maybe next trip. we'll try to visit donsol first :)

Tripper10 said...

Wow Butanding!!!
grabe... kakainggit naman....

Raft3r said...

finally, a place you featured na nabisita ko rin

The Nomadic Pinoy said...

I'm envious Dong!

Christian | Lakad Pilipinas said...

nakaka-pigil hininga naman!


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