Whale Sharks, Donsol, the Philippines

Donsol is best known for its whale shark interaction program. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish and can weigh up to 20 tons (and despite the name are harmless filter feeders). There are three sessions per day for up to 30 outriggers to go out for up to three hours each carrying up to 6 clients (if, like us, you are in a smaller party you can get a private boat).

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On each boat there are several spotters and the “butanding” are spotted when their black tails momentarily breach the water. There is then a frenzy as the boats cluster and jostle to discharge their swimmers in the butanding’s projected path (at one point we counted 24 boats in a pack which prompted our captain to turn the boat around and go out alone).

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I felt a little sorry for the butanding – reclusive celebrities being pursued by the paparrazi. However, if popularity is the price of conservation then I guess that is a fair bargain. In days gone past the resources that are now committed to whale shark spotting may well have been committed to fishing them.

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On our last morning in Donsol we hit the jackpot and saw five whale sharks before many other boats were out and were able to swim with then for some time. Very big, very graceful – which makes it very sad to see videos like this one from Wild Life Risk about the trade in whale sharks.

Out on the boat you can see Mount Mayon, an active volcano which dominates the skyline and has claimed its dues over the years with 48 recorded eruptions (5 hikers were killed by a minor eruption in 2013). The town of Legaspi sits at the base of the volcano and flying out from Legaspi Airport we had great views of Mount Mayon.

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