Monthly Archives: April 2012

Trying to not get eaten by Whale Sharks – Donsol Philippines


Before this Title causes controversy among the biological-marine life savy, I know that Whale Sharks don’t eat you. They’re plankton eaters, and when they rise to the near surface to feed on the unsuspecting plankton that’s when we get a chance to swim with these guys…

But there’s something humbling about swimming with something that’s big enough to eat you, it really puts you in your place!

Whale Sharks are the largest fish species in the world, they can grow up to 12.6m (41 feet!) in length, and are highly sought after by fisherman. Donsol offers a chance of a lifetime to swim with these huge fish.

This town was once prime location for Whale Shark fishing but has made a depleting industry into a sustainable one. Now a lot of locals who were once fisherman are now Butanding guides, making their living from hunting these beasts in a different way.

With three other people, Suzie and I jumped on a small Catamaran style boat which takes you along the bay searching for Whale sharks. The boats don’t hold many people, and it’s left up to you to find your own group or pay for the entire boat yourself.

 

It turned out to be a great way to meet friends that we had a chance to travel with on another adventure to a Wake-boarding tow park….but more on how to faceplant at 30 km/hr later.

On the boat we were told that if we were lucky enough to find a Whale Shark, we would have to act quick to get our gear on and jump in the water, no testing to see how cold it was first.

Rules posted around the pier had stated that only so many people were allowed around a whale shark at one time, this worked out to two boats maximum. So we were picturing a relaxing and magical experience. Although it was magical, it was far from relaxing.

Reality is, all the boats tended to work together to please their passengers. Once one boat had a sighting, every boat would circle it like vultures.

Suzie and I were told to get our gear on and sit by the tip of the boat. We had fins and masks flying everywhere as we bum scooted our way from left to right depending on which side the Whale Shark was on. And then, like horses out of the gate, we got to “Go!“ signal and in we jumped.

What a rush! Once you spot the animal it’s every man woman and child for themselves, since there were about 30 people to one Whale Shark.

What I love about developing countries is that you don’t have to jump through hundreds of hoops, waivers and restrictions to get to the good stuff. I call this the “Darwin clause” meaning survival of the fittest. If you decide to jump out of a plane without a parachute, then whatever happens was meant to be.

Same applies for Whale Shark swimming. Suzie and I were ready with masks, fins and even a bit of Free-diving training, where others didn’t even have fins!

Picture underwater mosh-pitting. As we swam through legs, hands, elbows and knees getting our masks ripped off more than once. But the beauty moment was when we got ahead of the pack and were able to dive down literally beside the huge Whale-Shark-Fish.

We would swim along side of it, within arms reach, and then swim ahead to watch it pass by us before coming up for another gasp of air. We did this again and again, until the Whale Shark decided that he had enough and dove deeper out of sight and then it was back on the boat for another hunt.

The tour lasted three hours, total dive time with the WS’s varies from 0 minutes to 10 minutes on average. We were lucky enough to swim with two separate Whale Sharks, and one for 15 minutes or more!

We plopped ourselves back on the boat like soggy noodles, exhausted from the chase. With adrenalin still pumping through our body we were all smiles on the boat-ride home, happy that we had experienced yet another thing we’ll never be able to fully describe.

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