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Donsol Travel Blog

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Snorkelling with Whalesharks in Donsol, Philippines

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Johan and Maggie (Sweden), Linus, Julia and friends (Sweden) about 15 Whalesharks!

Flying down to Legaspi was quite an experience for me, as both the security and the views were a little out of the ordinary. At Manila airport they would initially not let me into the passenger terminal until i had gone to Cebu Pacifics office and got them to print out my e-ticket, which was slightly annoying. After eventually checking in, i had to pass through some interesting security checks where i ended up bare footed and thoroughly searched on 2 occassions. To be honest, although i thought the security seemed a little extreme, i'd rather it be like this than the non-existent checks that they don't have in Indonesia!

The flight only took about an hour, before we descended into one of the World's most surreal airports.

The biggest fish in the sea! And he's looking right at ya!
There is only one runway and as the plane lands it has to do a u-turn to drop you back at the passenger terminal. But more strange is the fact that to the right there are a row of houses lining the runway and to the left is the colossal Mount Mayon! Incredible. To round off the wacky experience, our bags were loaded onto trolleys and left pretty much on the runway and a free for all ensued, whilst people made a grab for their bags! I wonder if Heathrow will implement this system anytime soon?

I was lucky enough to meet 2 very nice people from Sweden at the airport, Johan and Maggie, and we agreed to share a tricycle to the van stop, and then to go to Donsol together.

Side on view of the front of the Whaleshark
We arrived around 90 minutes later and checked into Santiago's Guesthouse, which is where Julia and I had stayed the previous year. A quick shower and the 3 of us went out to eat the rather unimpressive food that Donsol has on offer. The rest of the day was spent chatting back at the guesthouse, relaxing and generally not trying to fall asleep as we had all had pretty early starts. I eventually hit the hay around 10pm, but in true fashion couldn't sleep until 1am due to pure excitement!

Johan was knocking on my door at 6.45am and after the initial thought of 'let me sleep', i suddenly realised that for once i really didn't want an extra hour in bed, i wanted to be in the water as soon as possible! Within 10 minutes Johan, Maggie and I were in a tricycle and on our way to the whaleshark centre, located a couple of kilometres out of town.

Head, eye and mouth of the Whaleshark
The previous night they had got talking with 4 other Swedes that were staying in our guesthouse and as a result we signed up to do the trip together. Around 8am and the 7 of us were heading out on our boat, accompanied by a crew of around 5. I was delighted to see that there was only one other boat on the water and thus we pretty much had the whalesharks all to ourselves! It baffles me, that if this was Thailand, there would probably be a 1000 people queing up to do this, but as its in the Philippines, theres only a dozen, perfect!

The first sighting we got came pretty soon after setting off and with snorkelling gear fitted, we were all in the water and waiting for the first 'contact'. The water is extremely murky with plankton and as you begin to swim in the direction that the spotter is pointing, you realise that anything could be right next to you and you wouldn't even realise until.

Everybody out the way, coming through!
... ARGH, there it is! You find yourself within touching distance of a 12 metre creature with a mouth the size of a small adult! There's the initial shock and wonder, followed by awe, which is suddenly taken over by frantic paddling to try and keep up, as one swish of its fin equals about 10 of your strokes!

The first 2 Whalesharks that we swam with were pretty small (5 metres i'd say) and soon descended when we got into the water. The visibility also sucked and i was trying to remember if it had been like this the last time i had come. Although amazing, it wasn't as good as i'd got fixed in my head... but this was soon to change. After 20 minutes with no spottings, there was once again the shout of 'butanding, get ready' and the 7 of us began clambering for our fins and snorkels.

The head and gills of the Whaleshark, with cleaner fish doing their jobs too!
Now this Whaleshark was BIG and due to its size and i'm sure past interactions with humans, it didn't flinch at the site of 7 crazed minnows splashing around beside it! It remained just a metre below the surface and let us swim alongside it and above it. It was actually so close to the surface that i even gave it a kick with my flipper by accident and even this didn't bother it! We must have swam alongside it for a good couple of minutes, before it eventually began to descend, now this was the interaction that i'd been craving!

Over the next 2 hours we spotted roughly another dozen, including some real giants. It seemed that the bigger they were, the less intimidated they were and thus they were happy to swim along with us for extended periods of time. It was a truly breathtaking experience and one that everyone should have the privilege of doing at least once in their lifetime.

Gentle giant, surrounded by plenty of cleaner fish
If it isn't top of your wish list, then i suggest that you re-evaluate the list! Its already back at the top of mine ;)

Over 3 hours after setting off, we returned to shore with smiles as wide as the Whalesharks mouths and went home to get showered and change and then head out for some lunch. We ate in a restaurant with a bizarre policy that they would only cook meals that served 4! The owner reckoned that to cook individual meals was just not economical enough and thus you either ate for 4, or shared your dish with others. I was just pleased i wasn't on my own, as even though i had a worked up a pretty large appetite, i didn't think i could eat a family meal alone! Johan and I shared a beef stroganoff, although it was highly debatable what the 'meat' actually was.

Dorsal fin
A close eye was kept out for any black and white spotted skin or fins within it, but thankfully they were either removed, or we just had very wierd imaginations!

It was really nice to hang out with the guys back at the guesthouse and sharing such an experience seems to make bonds form pretty quickly between you. I guess its one of those times when you realise that no amount of words can actually describe what it is like, to someone who hasn't done it, but when you know that person lived that same moment with you, there seems just some sort of understanding that develops. It was therefore a real shame that one of the guys had got a foot infection a few days back and with the salt water, it had got so bad that he decided to go to and have it looked at by the local nurse.

Whaleshark with a cleaner fish at the front of its mouth
 He returned an hour later with the news that he had to get himself to a hospital right then! Bags were packed and hurried farewells were exchanged before the 4 of them headed off, leaving Johan, Maggie and I.

It had been an exceptionally long day and with all the adrenalin and emotions that had been charging through our veins, the 3 of us were pretty much zonked by 7pm! I made it to a cafe next door for some pizza and met 3 Western guys at the nearby bakery and agreed to meet up with them the following morning to head out to see the Whalesharks AGAIN! This was all i could manage before crashing out. I slept and dreamt of Whalesharks and what the following day would have in store.

Deats says:
my pleasure, if you search Donsol, i actually did it 3 times if you want to see other photos :)
Posted on: Dec 16, 2008
genex13 says:
wow... that's sooo cool you swam with them...
thx for sharing
Posted on: Dec 16, 2008
arlene0725 says:
Hey, just read these articles about projecting the Whale Shark in Donsol. A good sign. Arlene

WWF helps in RP whale shark conservation
12/14/2007 | 07:06 PM
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/72917/WWF-helps-in-RP-whale-shark-conservation

Sorsogon holds Butanding (whale shark) Festival
04/27/2008 | 11:58 PM
http://www.gmanews.tv/video/21734/Sorsogon-holds-Butanding-Festival
Posted on: Apr 28, 2008
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Snorkelling with Whalesharks in D…
The biggest fish in the sea! And h…
The biggest fish in the sea! And …
Side on view of the front of the W…
Side on view of the front of the …
Head, eye and mouth of the Whalesh…
Head, eye and mouth of the Whales…
Everybody out the way, coming thro…
Everybody out the way, coming thr…
The head and gills of the Whalesha…
The head and gills of the Whalesh…
Gentle giant, surrounded by plenty…
Gentle giant, surrounded by plent…
Dorsal fin
Dorsal fin
Whaleshark with a cleaner fish at …
Whaleshark with a cleaner fish at…
The Whalesharks 1m+ mouth, eeek!
The Whalesharks 1m+ mouth, eeek!
The Swedish guys boarding the boat…
The Swedish guys boarding the boa…
There it is! The Whalesharks mouth
There it is! The Whalesharks mouth
The Whalesharks mouth
The Whalesharks mouth
Linns swimming beside the Whalesha…
Linns swimming beside the Whalesh…
The boat waits to pick us up
The boat waits to pick us up
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Fin Soup...? I hope not!
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When swimming here, its more scar…
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Head of the Whaleshark as seen fr…
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Dorsal fin as the whaleshark swim…
Theres no zoom on this, its fin i…
There's no zoom on this, its fin …
Headan mouth of the whaleshark as …
Headan mouth of the whaleshark as…
Head of the Whaleshark, seen from …
Head of the Whaleshark, seen from…
Spotted head of the Whaleshark
Spotted head of the Whaleshark
Dorsal fin
Dorsal fin
1st and 2nd Dorsal fins
1st and 2nd Dorsal fins
Spotted head of the whaleshark
Spotted head of the whaleshark
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Dorsal fin
Dorsal fin
Giant mouth!
Giant mouth!
Linns diving down to the whaleshark
Linns diving down to the whaleshark
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Open mouth with a cleaner fish in…
Open mouth with a cleaner fish in …
Open mouth with a cleaner fish in…
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Caudal fin of the whaleshark
Back on the boat and leaving the g…
Back on the boat and leaving the …
Post match halo halo
Post match halo halo
Swimming with whalesharks in Dons…
Snorkelling with Whalesharks in D…
Snorkelling with Whalesharks in D…
Donsol
photo by: Deats