Finally! After about a year of dreaming I was able to have a close encounter with the Whalesharks in Donsol, Sorsogon. And yes, it was like I was still dreaming under the sea.
My experience of swimming with the whalesharks of what locals call “butanding” can be summarized in one sentence- “IT WAS 10 SOLID MINUTES OF BLISS.”
There were 3 butanding sightings before I swam the first one. I guess they were shy of surfacing in front of about 50 snorkelers.
I was speechless on the first encounter. For a second, no minutes, I forgot everything, I was bedazzled, amazed, awed, yes add all the synonyms of the adjectives I just typed.
The whaleshark was just swimming gently, softly, undistracted by the flock of tourists swimming above it. It was surreal to be swimming with a shark as big as that. Someone said it was 18 meters long, I don’t know but sure thing it was BIG, as in BIG BIG. After some seconds it went deeper and it was gone just like that. I was of course, “bitin.”
I went back to the boat and my heart was really beating fast. Tweeted as fast as I could, “It was surreal! I swam with one.” I was ticking-off one from my bucketlist and was so proud to finally saw one. If there was a trampoline I would have jump again and again, yes, for joy!
After about 30 minutes of spotting and waiting, another one was there. Two boats came first and there were already about 12 swimmers following the gentle giant. Before I jump, I examined the movement of the whale and then off I plunged into the water…
This time the butanding is much smaller, about 13 meters long (I know, it’s still big). At first I was above its tail but then I got my swimming mojo and was flipping my fins like a dolphin. I was like a meter close the whaleshark, following its direction and noticing some small fishes on its skin. For 10 solid minutes I was just there, peacefully swimming with the whaleshark. I don’t know how to compare the experience- but you could say that it was like __________ (fill the blank with anything you think is blissful, unbelievable and paradise). Now, I want to kick myself for not bringing an underwater camera.
I didn’t mind the horde of people trying to paddle towards the white-dotted great-sized creature. I was just there trying to go with the flow, to follow, observing every detail as long as I can. It’s a plus plus that I can swim and I know how to use my flippers and my snorkeling gear.
I can see the humongous gills, the flippers, the big mouth, the beautiful white dots on its skin, the small eyes, its gentleness, its wide tail, the other marine creatures swimming with it, the bubbles of the water from other swimmers. I can feel that my legs are about to retire. I really wonder how come a creature this big is 100% harmless.
For 10 complete minutes i forgot about everything- no worries, no problems, no lovelife, no nothing. I even forgot that I’m doing a 100 Days Challenge. hahaha
It was an experience worth doing again. An experience worth sharing the next generation. An adventure everyone should experience.
For 10 complete minutes i forgot about everything- no worries, no problems, no lovelife, no nothing. I even forgot that I’m doing a 100 Days Challenge.
Why you should not try to hold the butanding/tuki/whaleshark?
Because butandings have this protective covering all over their bodies, like a membrane to protect them from harmful sea species (parasite) that can cling to their bodies the moment the protection was lost.
So when you hold the whaleshark, your hand’s oil will take away that protective membrane. That’s the time where these parasites can easily cling to the shark and start sucking blood.
So you would notice that near the butanding there are lots of small fishes, they are there just waiting for the perfect timing foolish people touch the poor whaleshark.
So if you want your kids and future grandchildren still see the butandings, dont attempt to touch them.
Tips for those who want to experience the whalesharks:
1. Practice your swimming skills. It’s a plus if you are a strong swimmer as there are lots of time you have to swim towards the whaleshark.
2. Learn to use your snorkeling gear and learn the art of flipping.
3. Observe the movement of the whaleshark before plunging to the sea. Listen to your BIO.
4. Bring your underwater camera. Kicks myself again!
5. Bring lots of water (and food too). It’s tiring and hot out there.
6. Be patient. It will come out.
7. If its possible, do this on a weekday. Invite your friends to join you on a trip, 6 people share for one boat.
Best Season to go there? Last week of February till 1st week of June.
Note: For those traveling solo, make arrangements with the Tourism Office (just beside Dancalan Beach Resort) and ask them to connect you to a group of 5. It will save you a lot unless you don’t mind paying Php3500.
Boat Rental: Php3,500 (good for 6 people)
Tourist fee: Php 100 (for Filipinos), Php 300 (for foreigners)
Snorkle, masks and flippers rental: Php 250-300
Total: Php950 for locals / Php 1,150 for foreigners (US$27-28 or EU20-21)
Albay Tourism helpful link: Donsol, Sorsogon Whaleshark
___ ___ ___
Thank you so much to Sir Jayrick, one of the tourism officers, for the big help while I was in Donsol, Sorsogon. If not for you, I will not be able to swim with the whalesharks.
#ISANGDAAN is a personal journey and challenge to backpack around the Philippines the cheapest way possible for 100 days. “Isang Daan” is a Filipino term that can mean either “one way” or “one hundred.”
If you want to follow my steps, I have an interactive map- ISANGDAAN Journey map.