SORSOGON 2005: Chasing the Butandings of Donsol

After a trek in Mt. Malinao (Albay) in 2005, a beach trip naturally came up next. 

Donsol is located south of Luzon and northwest of the Sorsogon Province. It is the feeding grounds of hundreds of migratory Butanding or whale sharks. 

It rocketed as a premier tourist destination for whaleshark interaction in 1998 when these gentle giants were caught on video making friendly contacts with human. Thus putting the fishing village of Donsol on ecotourism map.

Nothing would prepare me for my whale shark experience but this photo from the Tourism Office of these majestic spotted blue. I already know what it looks like, but I can only imagine how huge this creature really is. I wonder, how can something so big, with the word Shark for its second name be so famous as gentle.

A little short on budget, we rented just one Nipa Hut to house five of us.

And rented a boat big enough for seven. There's just five of us, so we shared the boat with a foreign couple. Each boat usually has three crews - the boatman, the steersman, and the whale-shark spotter.  But this was just us.. 

The butanding spotter may have seen something on the water, so he told us to get off the boat in time for the group shot.

Soon after, the spotter told us to put on our masks and snorkels because a whale shark is just below us. We excitedly dived to see what we came all this way for. At first, I couldn't see clearly underwater and the whale-sharks natural color makes for a very good camouflage for the untrained eyes. But the spotter, knows exactly what its up to down there. When I finally made a sense of what I was seeing underwater, like a 3D puzzle, its blue/gray skin and white dots finally popped out and the creature took the form I had of it in my mind.

Realizing it was a whale and a shark at the same time that I was trying to see, my fight or flight instinct suddenly turned on.. Raised my head out of the water, and swam away from the whale shark after the first instance that my brain picked up the signal that it was indeed the creature that I saw.. Haha! My heart raced faster than my reflex to get out of the water. I knew my four companions share the same rush i felt the first time we had a sight of the butanding. Such a wonderful experience. Soon after, we were stalking several whale sharks and swimming after them.

These were the images during our close encounter with these gentle giants. Not quite like the photo at the tourism office, we had shots of its different body parts instead.  Hehe!

And the most upfront shot we were able to take was this. Minus the sharp teeth, I'm convinced it is more of a whale than a shark. Although its namesake was basically derived from its physiology. Apparently, it really is a shark under its own genus -Rhincodon. It qualified as a whale because of its size. So its a whale-shark.
It's a whale after all.

The whale shark experience was a very satisfying trip.


So you wanna go there too and experience the Butanding rush? Here's how:

GETTING THERE: Go to Legaspi City, Albay via plane (45mins) or bus (10hours); Tricycle to Legaspi Central Terminal (5mins); Van to Donsol, Poblacion; Tricycle to Resort or Tourism Center.

FEES & PERMITS: Pay registration fee of Php100.00 for local tourist and PhP300.00 for foreign. A tourism officer will provide a short briefing of general butanding interaction practices and rules in the area. Arrange boat rentals and tourist guides.

GEARS & STUFF: Make sure you have the essential gears to make the most of the experience.

Mask and snorkel or goggles are the most basic. Fins to provide the needed propulsion for the butanding chase.  Lifevests are optional because it adds drag, but a necessity for non-swimmers. Rentals around PhP300.00 for a set of fins, mask and snorkel.

An underwater or waterproofed camera for lots and lots of memories.

And you're set!! Enjoy swimming with the Butanding/Whale sharks.

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