SORSOGON | Whale Shark Encounters in Donsol


Swimming with a whale shark in Donsol | via Ferdz Decena of ironwulf.net
Swimming with a whale shark in Donsol | via Ferdz Decena of ironwulf.net

I barely slept on the first night of our six-day tour around Bicol Region's ALMASOR (Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon). Our call time was 4:30 in the morning, since we had to travel for an hour from our hotel in Legazpi going to Donsol, take our breakfast there and catch our 7:00 AM schedule at the Donsol Tourist Center. Morning is the best time to experience the whale sharks, according to our boatman.



Donsol's Gentle Giants

Mention Donsol and whale sharks, or butanding, would definitely pop up on someone’s head. The town of Donsol has become synonymous with the so-called “gentle giants of the sea” because of the almost assured whale shark sightings in its seas. These colossal sea creatures phenomenally stay in Donsol’s protected environment longer than any other place in the world, making the town a world-class eco-tourism site and reputed as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World."

Butanding
Butanding | via Ferdz Decena of ironwulf.net


Whale Shark Interaction is usually a three-hour activity. It begins at the Donsol Tourist Center where tourists are briefed, via an audio-visual presentation, on the nature of the whale sharks and the rules on how to properly interact without causing harm to both the whale sharks and themselves. The DOT, together with Donsol LGU and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), formulated a series of rules and regulations to ensure the continued protection of these endangered animals.

The center is also where tourists meet their BIO, Butanding Interaction Officer, whose tasks are to spot whale sharks that swims on the surface and signal the tourists, sitting on the boat's edge with their snorkels on by then, to jump with him into the waters for the close encounter.



My Whale Shark Encounters

I took free diving lessons in late 2020, but everything I learned had not used since then because of the series of pandemic travel bans. Only this summer of 2022 did my freediving skills were finally put to real test. This time, not with co-divers, but with the gentle giants.

In about thirty minutes after we set sail, the BIO spotted our first butanding. Since whale sharks tend to vanish quickly once spotted on the surface, we were told not to waste time, that is, if the BIO shouts "talon!", we must jump in no time, even if the boat was still moving. Boats do move after finding, so as to go a little farther from the whale shark and avoid any harm.

Butanding spotter
Butanding spotter

Everything happened so fast. That first butanding swam back in the deep after just about 10 seconds or so. But we did not return to the boat empty-handed. We saw it clear through our diving masks, we swam with it even for just a few inches.

The second and the third encounter were better. They were bigger and we were able to swim with them for a longer duration.



Whale shark sightings, though highly probable, are not guaranteed. I hear stories from friends who were not able to see a single butanding during their endeavors. Even some from our group who were boarded in other boats had not seen one. I felt lucky that morning because we sighted not just one, but three—the largest of them was about seven feet long.

This activity was no easy feat. The BIO's signal to jump was exhilarating; three hours of plunging into the sea, trying not to be outswam by the whale sharks and treading the waters back to the boat while drenched under the sun was exhausting. But seeing the gentle giants up close was truly remarkable. A "life changing experience" as WWF ambassadors, Rovilson Fernandez and Marc Nelson, described it in the orientation video.

Orientation at Donsol Tourist Center
Orientation at Donsol Tourist Center

Rates (Updated as of May 2022)

  • Registration Fee: Php 100 for local tourists / Php 300 for foreign tourists
  • Whale Shark Interaction Activity: Php 5000 per boat (good for 6)

To book a tour, you may go directly to the center or you may avail a tour package from your chosen resort in Donsol.


How to Get There

Address: Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center, Brgy. Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon
By Air: Take a one-hour flight from Manila to Bicol International Airport (LGP), then take a shuttle going to Donsol (travel time is about 1-1.5 hours)
By Land: From Manila, either drive or take a bus bound for Donsol. Travel time is 11-12 hours.
Location: Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center (via Google Maps)
Contact: Donsol Tourism Office (Facebook page)



About the Author

DJ Rivera is an I.T. professional, entrepreneur, blogger and travel writer based in Rizal province, Philippines. He juggles writing softwares and feature articles, managing his small businesses, and teaching software development in the academe. He contributes travel-related write-ups to several publications and websites, and narrates his experiences traveling around the Philippines in his own blog, PinoyTravelogue.com. He finds himself most engaged in chasing hidden waterfalls and rummaging through the history, arts and culture of the places he's been to. Click here to know more.


Let's connect:     

Powered by Blogger.