22 April 2010, The Philippines
In addition to beaches and diving, another goal for our tour through the Philippines was to swim with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the world’s largest living fish, sometimes exceeding ten meters in length. Their name may conjure up images of Captain Ahab or a 70s era Roy Schneider and their respective fearsome foes, but whale sharks eat mostly plankton and are not dangerous. They can be found in warm waters throughout the world, and in the Philippines many tourists travel to Donsol to see them. We planned to incorporate Donsol into our Philippines itinerary, but read that whale sharks are also occasionally seen at Padre Burgos. Donsol became a contingency plan; if we didn’t see whale sharks in Padre Burgos, we could still travel to Donsol where we were nearly guaranteed to see them. The downside of Donsol was that we were also guaranteed to see an armada of boats and hoards of other tourists.
We arrived at Sogod Bay Scuba Resort and quickly learned that we’d been misinformed about the whale shark situation. Whale sharks weren’t occasionally seen, rather they’d been seen during each one of SBSR’s 40 trips so far this season. We were eager to see them with our own eyes, but by the time we arrived the boat had already departed for the day.
Two days and several excellent dives later we traveled about ten kilometers to Limasawa Island, where the whale sharks had been making consistent appearances this season. As we approached the island the crew slowed the boat and began scanning the water. After only a few minutes they spotted a whale shark and we hurriedly readied our snorkeling gear as they maneuvered the boat closer. We jumped into the water and found ourselves floating only a couple of meters above the largest living creature I’ve ever seen. The whale shark was around five meters long with bluish-gray skin and hundreds of bright white spots. We swam with the shark for about ten minutes before it dived too deep to follow. After climbing aboard the boat we waited less than five minutes before spotting another shark and jumping back in the water. Over the next two and a half hours we had ten sightings, with about six or seven unique whale sharks.
Seeing the whale sharks was one of the most unique and exhilarating experiences either of us have ever had. We were also very fortunate with our location and timing. Our boat was alone in the water, and Allison and I were the only actual tourists aboard. We were joined by Pedro, the divemaster from SBSR, as well as Clark and Olly, the two expats who accompanied us on our dives and shared their underwater photos. With an earlier or later trip we might have been knocking elbows with other tourists and Clark and Olly probably wouldn’t have come along to snap photos. Swimming with the whale sharks will almost certainly be a highlight of our trip around the world.
Check out more whale shark photos in the Gallery.