Close Encounters With The Gentle Giant
Diving With Whale Sharks In Donsol
Humans have a natural aversion to this predator of the sea because of its size, strength and apparent appetite for human flesh. While there are indeed certain species of sharks and other marine creatures that can inflict permanent bodily injury upon humans, there are also some species that cannot so much as harm the tip of your pinkie finger.
The whale shark, locally known as butanding, is an example of the latter type of shark.
Donsol, Official Whale Sanctuary
Donsol, Sorsogon used to be a sleepy coastal town until marine enthusiasts and tourists realized that it is home to the mysterious whale shark. Because of its unfortunate name and large size (some grow well over 12 meters), people have stayed away from it for generations. Year after year, whale sharks visit the Bicol peninsula from the Pacific Ocean and stay for a couple of months.
It was only over a decade ago that the Philippine Department of Tourism declared Donsol to be an official whale shark sanctuary. No other place in the Philippines affords as many and as frequent whale shark sightings than the waters off Donsol.
The best time to see the whale sharks is from December to May, although there are also occasional sightings from November to June. It’s best to go out to sea in the morning so that the water is clear enough for easy sighting.
Butanding (Whale Shark)
For all its girth and seeming ferocity, the butanding is actually one of the gentlest sea creatures man can generally interact with safely. They swim near the surface of the water, breaking through occasionally only to dive beneath again. Their large black bodies are speckled with white so they’re quite easy to distinguish from other sea creatures.
There are actually boat trips that offer whale shark sighting and swimming for those who are adventurous enough to overcome their fear. The butanding is a very trusting creature and may sometimes swim alongside the boat for a few minutes before heading off in another direction.
Or you may also choose to dive into the water and actually experience swimming along with the whale sharks. And you don’t need fancy diving equipment to do this—standard snorkel gear and fins can get you close enough to the whale sharks.
It’s easy to miss the whale sharks if you allow your anxiety to get in the way before jumping off the boat. Once the boatman tells you to jump, you have to jump. Otherwise you’ll miss your chance to catch up with the whale sharks.
The trip can last anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on your desire to be exposed to these gentle sea creatures, but it is almost guaranteed that you can see as many as 10 whale sharks on a single trip.