I had the rare chance of swimming with a whale shark. Whale sharks are now considered endangered, meaning their numbers have been steadily decreasing in recent decades.
FYI: According to Wikipedia, the highest concentration of whale sharks is in the Philippines. From January to May they congregate in the shallow coastal waters (at Donsol).
Whale sharks are the largest living fish species. Do not be misled by the name, the whale shark is not a man-eating shark species. It is often used as an example to educate people that not all sharks are dangerous.
The whale shark species does not pose a threat to humans despite its enormous size. Here it is:
Here’s a baby whale shark found in Mindoro, Philippines:
Photos by WWF-Philippines
A Briefer from WWF: Since 1998, WWF-Philippines has been assisting the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Donsol in conserving the whale sharks (Rhincodon Typus) and developing a community-based whaleshark ecotourism program for the municipality. The project supported the establishment of a community-based ecotourism program and participatory assessments as basis for coastal management. Since 2002, 8,088 visitors descended to Donsol earning the town PhP 4.2 million in registration fees, whale shark tours and other services. The direct monetary benefits are equitably shared among whale shark interaction officers, banca operators, LGU and tourism suppliers. Whale shark tourism is currently the number one tourist destination for Bicol Region and was awarded the Kalakbay Award for the best ecotourism destination in 2003. In 2004, TIME magazine cited Donsol as the best animal encounter destination in Asia.To protect the whale shark habitat, WWF-Philippines in cooperation with the LGUs will implement coastal resources management in 11 barangays and in the neighboring town of Pilar. The project gained more momentum when the newly elected mayor of Donsol renewed the enforcement campaign against illegal fishing. The project is supported by USAID through WWF-US.
Hi guys, I wrote this this in 2004 when I volunteered for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines.
My Donsol Experience
Last May 26, 2004, I experienced the unbelievable, a close encounter with the whale shark—the worlds largest fish. Not that I thought that it was not possible. Rather, because I am devoid of the faculty of swimming. Before, I never saw it as a disadvantage on my part. However, after my interaction with the butanding (whale shark), I very much wished I were an expert swimmer, a diver more so.
We left the shores of Donsol at around 10:00 AM . It was sheer excitement that filled me as the motor commenced. One Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) said that at times, even at a 100m distance from the shore, a butanding could be sighted. I was keeping my fingers crossed. I thought to myself, That would not be too deep yet. Wonderful! But then, the motorboat went farther and farther and that actually made my heart thump. I began to feel reluctant on whether to go down the boat or what. Boy, I was really scared. Believe me, this is just an understatement. I even kissed my friends and they kidded me “Angel, is this your premonition?” I just laughed my fear off. I told them “Guys, I’ll just watch you from here, okay? The boat ride is great!”
After about 45 minutes, a butanding was sighted. My companions got themselves all geared up. I told them I’d go down on the next sighting. And off they went. Unfortunately, they were not able to see it. The butanding immediately went deeper into the water. So, when they got back, we went around in circles to find other whale sharks. Not too long after, there was another sighting. I was just wearing goggles and a life vest. I was able to gather enough confidence because I would just be tagged along by the best diver in the place. My mind was confident but my physicality was not. Jumping off the boat was already a major difficulty on my part. The diver even had to give me words of encouragement before I actually went down. God, I felt the waves against my body. Then, I knew that my life was heavily dependent on the diver, Manong Daryn. Because I was really clinging on to Manong Daryn, we were not able to move fast. I even rode him piggyback that made it harder for us to follow the others. So, I just asked Manong to bring me back to the boat. And he did. It was a blessing in disguise, though, because when we were back aboard, we noticed that one of our companions was having a hard time swimming. He was, in fact, already struggling for breath. Manong Daryn rushed to his rescue. We discovered afterwards that the flippers made it difficult for him to move. At the next sighting, I had almost convinced myself not to go down the boat. But I noticed the people enjoying the interaction. So, I went down. Good thing the butanding was feeding. The interaction was so long. The first time I saw it, it made me say “Wow!” I felt satisfied with that one look. It was already a big hurdle for me to go down there. I told Manong Daryn “Manong, I saw the whale shark already. Can we go back to the boat?” He disagreed. He told me “This is one of the most beautiful creatures of the ocean, watch it a little longer.” So I did. Manong brought me to the tail of the whale shark to its body then to its large head. It was so cute. It looked so gentle while it was feeding. Several sightings followed. At around 12:30 pm , we went back to the shores of Donsol.
What I experienced at Donsol’s waters will surely be with me for the rest of my life. It was, by far, the most courageous thing I have ever done in my life. And I am more than glad that I took the risk. What I saw was indeed a wonder. As one of my companions in the boat said, “The wonderful thing about the whale sharks in Donsol is that we see them not as captives but rather, in their natural state.” And I believe that exemplifies conservation in its truest sense.
When I got back to my dormitory, my mom called me and asked me about my experience. I could go on and on. And before the call ended, my mom remarked, “When you get back home, I’ll force you to take that long overdue swimming lesson. I wont take no for an answer.” Definitely, I will be obedient this time.
I hope that the future generations will still see this wonderful species, along with other marine life that are endangered like many whale species. Here’s a video from Greenpeace: