Published: February 18th 2009February 18th 2009
Front on. Swimmers at the stop
We were only on the boat for 5 minutes. “Get your gear on!” the guide yells out - A rush came over us. Our snorkel gear was on. “Get ready! Get into position!”It started to feel like a raid. Flippers on - our legs dangling over the side of the boat. “Okay… GO, GO, GO!” We drop into the sea and before you know it a whaleshark is swimming underneath me - Only metres away. This is the greatest wildlife experience yet.
I was in Donsol in the southern Bicol region of the main island Luzon. It is one of the few places in the world where you can get a guaranteed sighting during the peak season Feb-May. Known locally as Butanding they grow up to 18m,this area is more common between 4-12m. They are a cheekard board pattern of white spots and stripes with a blue-grey and brown skin colour.
Visibility on the first go was limited and brief but soon after another shark was spotted. Spotting is an acute visual - A small fin slightly penetrating the waters surface. When its found, the boat comes towards it, keeping its distance and then the guide goes through the
same routine. “Get your gear on!”… “Okay, GO! GO! GO!” I was so close to belowing out before I dived “FREEZE LAPD!”
This time perfect visibility and it was a mesmerising experience. I ended up swimming with this shark for 1hour and 15 minutes. The experience was so much higher than my expectations could have ever been. The shark swims quick enough to make it a fitness work out but slow enough to stick with it. The shark was about 10-12m. I swam with it for so long I got a 360-degree of glorious nature watching.
The only problem was the mass of people swimming as well. The rule is only allowed 8 people but on this day that was ignored. You need to be at least 3m away but on this day that was ignored. Annoying too was other peoples ineffective kick cycles creating bubbles which affected viewing sometimes. What was funny was people who couldn’t swim in bright orange life jackets getting dumped in front of the shark splashing about at the top and within 20 seconds the shark is gone and the swim crew has passed. I wonder what their thoughts on of the day
I watched the tail and swam behind it, watching it gracefully move side to side - Small fishes hanging around its body for an easy ride. Swimming to the front it is where most people were. At the head the mouth, near 2m wide is lined with tiny teeth, which are just there for show as they eat plankton, krill and small fish. To a front on view and there’s no eyes. That’s because it’s on the side. Small beady eyes that must think what the hell are these underwater flies following me around all the time.
Got some great photos and videos. Every time the whale went down out of sight everyone would go into the boat and wait for another sighting. I tried to go another day but the weather was bad and there was no whales. But still I’d take one from two.
I had just finished a 30-hour bid to get here. After originally starting from Malapascua, an island to the north of Cebu. This area is known as one of a very few guaranteed Thresher Shark sights.
Thresher sharks are the sharks with an unusually large tail. Usually living
The massive jelly fish
needed to avoid these obsticles when swimming
deep in the ocean they come up in the early mornings to get cleaned by the fish. Called cleaning stations. The idea is to descend around 18-20m kneel on the seabed and just wait and watch.
5am wake up and out there by 6am. When it was time to put the tank on a figure leapt out of the water. It was a Thresher shark. Leaping about 4 times higher than a dolphin. Made even more dramatic when it did it a further 3 times. It was a Hollywood over the top jump. I never thought sharks could do that and that added to the excitement.
Visibility is normally not that good and first up I saw a silvery image but wasn’t sure. Squinting, I stopped gazing and looked around for something else,than a movement back where the silver image was, followed by a black tail whipping around and storming off. It was a massive sight. I felt like the kids from that movie ‘Honey I shrunk the kids.’
The whole time was squinting and assuming a shark was there followed by visions of giant whipping black tails in a hazy blue. Near the end I asked
I'll get the name of this fish.
myself “One more sight” And the closest one came along. Seeing the size of the body and the out of proportioned tail. I am not sure if it’s worth a special trip, which I did. The island didn’t impress me that much; beaches aren’t as pristine as they should be. Weather wasn’t that good either. But the sight of the tails made it all worthwhile.
My last day in Philippines was back in Manilla and it was a really enjoyable day. It was a Sunday so the city had a real family atmosphere. I don’t like Sunday strolls in cities anymore after the Belem robbing at knifepoint incident in JP3. And there are moments of not feeling safe. But the old city (Intramuros) is one of the few old cities that is more or less still a working city. The fort is well kept and there are a lot of monuments and signs reminding people of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in WWII.
A bloke called Jose Rizal is the local hero here and the park dedicated to him is a nice walk too. For 30c its entry to where he was executed. What they have done
About the only photo where it looks like a shark
here is quite impressive. I was expecting a plaque on the ground that’s it. But what they have done is re-enact the scene with iron structured figures 1 ½ times scale. They have the firing squad, the priest, the drummer and Rizal on his own; chest out, arms tied back and three bullet holes in his back. I had no idea what I was about to see but its such a graphic depiction. Very impressed.
I left Philippines after 21 days. I think it is a destination that you can do on a 2 week holiday from home. Pick a specific region and spend that time in the one place. Than come back and do the same thing when you’ve got next years annual leave. Travel is too annoying and time consuming. It is definitely on the cards in the future. I found the people very friendly and polite. Although it does get annoying hearing sir for everything “Good evening sir!” “Hello Sir” “Can I help you sir”.
I actually felt more at home here than the rest of SE Asia. The influences of the Spanish and Americans is pretty evident. It sometimes felt I was back in
South America again. Security is high. They are everywhere. Shopping centres, train stations. My back got rubbed up about 10 times a day. There are a few negatives about this place but the positives far outweigh the negatives and that’s why it’s worth another trip.
TIP: Fly into Cebu not Manila especially Clark which is called Clark Field. Not even an airport. Makes it sound like a cow paddock.
There are more photos below