donsol: swimming with the whale sharks

Who would not put swimming with the whale sharks on their things to do before ___?

I've been wanting to go for a long time already. Thanks to Jerry and Ninin's invitation, I was finally able to do it. It was such an AWESOME, AMAZING, WOW experience. No exaggerations there.

I'd skip through the lousy Zestair experience to get to Legazpi and go straight to the adventure part of the story. Jerry and Ninin arrived a few hours ahead of us and signed up for a tour for the next day at seven in morning.

A morning tour would be advisable because the heat would not be as bad. In our case, it was also an advantage because it was raining in the afternoon and I would think the visibility would not be as good. I'd also say have a heavy breakfast because you need all the energy you can get to fully enjoy this wonderful experience.

Most resorts and boats have a tarpaulin reminding tourists the proper way of swimming with the butandings. To be honest, it's hardly followed but do try your best for your own safety and for the good of the butanding too.

Tarpaulin explaining the proper way to interact with whale sharks.

We were lucky that the day started bright and sunny. The sun's reflection danced merrily on the water's waves. The gang were quite excited as we slathered ourselves with sunblock.

When spending time with the whale sharks, it is a must to have your snorkeling gear, including fins. I brought my bro's gear with me but they fit neither Jan nor me so we ended up renting the entire set from the resort which cost us P300.

Our BIO (butanding interactive officer) was Johnson. He was a burly man with long hair. He has been doing this for so long that his skin has this permanent burnt quality to it. Johnson gave us instructions to be alert when he gives the signal. He would tell us which side of the boat to go and jump from.

Before we actually dove in with the butanding, he made us look at the water and taught us a bit of how to spot one. It was quite easy in that weather. From above, you'd see a large moving shadow a few feet below the water. That signified the butanding was there.

I opted to use a life vest since I'm not a very good swimmer. I don't want to mar my whale shark experience by almost drowning, you know.

After a few minutes, Johnson signaled for us to sit on the edge of the boat and wait for his signal. A butanding was nearby.

Feet with flippery fins

Johnson shouted "go" and dove in. Ninin, Jerry, Jan and I dove after him. At first, we could not see anything but water. Then our BIO pointed ahead of us. The whale shark was coming our way!

It was magnificent.

There it was, right in front of me, the largest fish in the world. It was coming right at me. I was both nervous and excited. I could see its slit of a mouth. I could see it's very small eyes. I didn't know if it could see me but if it did, it did not seem to mind because he was still coming our way.

When you see a creature, the size of a small car coming at you, I don't think it's wise to crash into it. So I made a U-turn and moved out of its path and swam along with it. This is where the flippers helped. I could float easily and swim fast and with little effort.

I was finally swimming along with the whale shark.
There it was beside me, in all it's spotted splendor. It was intimidating. Yet, it did not seem to care about the people who were crowding around him. It must think that we were just like the other fishes that would hitch a ride with it.

Little fishes hitched a ride on its spotted back. They looked edible. Photo by Jerry.

Wow. Amazing.
We dove into the water around eight times. Seven of those times, we were able to swim with the whale sharks. One swim went as long as eleven minutes! All the others lasted for more than five. Every time was as amazing as the previous swim. I can't get over how thrilling the experience is!

There is a bit of a downside to it though. While the tourism office says that there should be one boat (or six tourists) to one butanding, that is hardly the case. Our awesome BIO was great in spotting whale sharks, and doubly skilled in getting us to be the first group to be with the butanding. We were quite lucky with him. However, most of the time, other groups would flock to our butanding and join us in the viewing. It would be perfectly fine if they were just behaved. But noooo! I had flippers hit me in the face in arms. I had someone who had her arms hit my snorkeling mask. Several times. I don't really think they were intentionally being rude, but they were just too focused on having the butanding to theirselves that all politeness and etiquette just flew out of the window. In the middle of the sea, people would cut you or get in the way, much like motorcycles in rush hour Manila. It was really quite annoying and I really ranted about it. But I refused to have that little problem get in the way of the joy of spending time with whalesharks.

We had so much fun swimming with the butandings that my feet started to blister. My big toe started to chafe and my other toes had little bubbles of air. Ouch.

Chafed big toe. Just ignore the hair. :P

I noticed the pain around the fourth dive, but that did not stop me from keeping on. I hardly noticed it while swimming. Or I think I did, but chose to pay attention when there is this resplendent creature swimming right in front of me.

Every dive was awesome. There was a time when the butanding started going up, as if trying to get to the surface. Guess who located on top of its dorsal fin? I had to scoot out of the way before we could bump into each other. For one, we were told not to touch the fish. Second, I don't want to find out by experience which one of us has the smoother and softer flesh. No thank you.

During our last dip, we were lucky to be the only ones with the butanding. Jan and I were by the head while Ninin and Jerry were with Johnson at the back near the tail. While watching it swim, we saw its head jerk nervously. We decided to get away from it lest it does something crazy. We saw Nin, Je and Johnson a few meters away talking about the major tail swish. Apparently, the BIO accidentally touched a part of it which agitated the monster. I could imagine how exciting the view of the tail do a big sway, though I could also imagine how terrible it would have been to get hit a SUV-sized fish.

After that, we decided to call it a day and go back to the hotel. We were lucky with the crew we were assigned to and could not ask for anything more.

Jan and I were talking about it for days. I enjoyed the experience so much that I would like to do it again the next year! Seriously. It was just so exhilirating and surreal that I need to have more of it!

Thanks to the WWF for this great idea! Not only did the experience give people a good time, it also helped the community see the importance of co-existing with other wonderful creatures.

Do go if you can!


seƱorita said...

hi, we’re planning to head over at donsol this weekend for whaleshark interaction. may i ask, how many butandings did you see and, according to the BIOs, was it easier to find butandings this month? Last month, i think, it took them days before they could find one. thanks for the help!

anj said...

i'm not really sure if there were duplications with the whale sharks that we saw. we did go down eight times and swam with them seven times. once, there were too many people so we decided against going with the crowd.

they say that there are a lot of whalesharks from november to may. a friend was there a couple of weeks ago and they were still able to swim with them.

with the weather being nice and warm, there might be good chances to see enough butandings to satisfy.

enjoy! it's a wonderful experience. :)

BabyPink said...

Wow! Dream ko ito! :)