Meet the whale shark

The mighty giant of the ocean, one of the least known species to science, a silent solitary swimmer – the whale shark! It leaves you speechless (or choking with salty water)… You feel respect and you should always respect nature! Discover nature and try not to destroy it.

 

A whale shark

 

quick FACTS

The whale shark is the biggest shark and the biggest fish. It’s up to 46 feet (14 m), weighing up to 15 tons – it’s like a school bus but with distinctive white-yellow dots and very thick gray skin. It’s not a whale! It has f*** big mouth – I had the chance to see it face to face, I thought she will suck me in. Phew… Cheers to that!

This enormous shark is a filter feeder and sieves enormous amounts of plankton to eat through its gills as it swims. The prey includes plankton, krill, small fish, and squid.

Whale sharks live in warm waters near the equator (±30-40° latitude) both along the coast and in the open seas. They are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to hitch a ride. They are currently listed as a vulnerable species, however, they continue to be hunted in parts of Asia…

So if you promise you won’t endanger them, I will tell you where one can encounter and interact with the silent giants: the southern and eastern parts of South Africa; Saint Helena Island in the South Atlantic Ocean; Gulf of Tadjoura in Djibouti, Gladden Spit in Belize; Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia; Lakshadweep, Gulf of Kutch and Saurashtra coast of Gujarat in India; Útila in Honduras;Southern Leyte; Donsol, Pasacao and Batangas in the Philippines; off Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox in Yucatan and Bahía de los Ángeles in Baja California, México; Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia; Nabire National Park in Indonesia; Nosy Be in Madagascar Off Tofo Reef near Inhambane in Mozambique; the Tanzanian islands of Mafia, Pemba, Zanzibar; the Dimaniyat Islands in the Gulf of Oman and Al Hallaniyat islands in the Arabian Sea; and, very rarely, Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan.

 

GETTING TO DONSOL

Donsol is a small town situated on the same island as Manila. We booked a direct 1h flight from Manila to Legazpi with CebuPacific. From Legazpi we shared a van with 4 more people and it was another 2 hours to reach Donsol.

Another option to go to Donsol is by bus but I would’t recommend because the road is not good and it takes 12 hours to reach Legazpi.

There are a lot of hotels, guest houses, hostels which offer from basic to luxury accommodation. We hadn’t booked a hotel and we decided to go to the hotel of our American co-whaleshark-divers: Woodland Beach Resort which has the best bar (see the photo below). Here is a link to see a list of the hotels in Donsol.

We all checked in and walked straight to the

Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center

You have to register with the authorities and you can see a short movie instructing you what to do and what not to do while swimming (with a snorkel) with the whale sharks. The boats go out with 6 people per boat (not including the captain, diver or spotter). One boat costs PHP 3500 (~78 usd), and with the snorkel rental PHP 200 and the natural reserve’s fee of PHP 300, totals to PHP 1100 (25 usd) per person.

It’s only 25 usd for this unforgettable experience! The Philippines are considered one of the cheapest destinations to interact with the whale sharks.

Once you have a full boat you can take off. You have the spotter who sits on top of the boat and looks for the sharks, the diver and everyone else sit on the side of the boat with fins and snorkel on, ready to jump in at anytime. The captain hopefully gets in front of the shark or close enough to it that when you jump in the shark is right there.

The feeling is incredible! I swam only 20 cm above the shark. I could easily touch it which is forbidden (but I’m a little rebel ;))

That moment when you don’t dream just because you are living your dream. That’s my day in Donsol: landing 6am and going straight to the bio center and the next moment i’m swimming with the whale sharks, I’m so small, i feel respect and I’m thankful, I’m just 20 cm above the shark, touching the fin, then i move next to her, she feeding on plankton, opening her huge mouth and i feel the stream, then i stop and let her swim away… escorted by janitor fish… nature is amazing!!!!! Then enjoy the sunset and the endless horizon, so peaceful and that day stays forever in my heart…
I’m blessed, I’m happy i shared this dream with my beloved sister, the happiest moments shared together!!!
Dream, love, share… — with Svetlana Sushko at Whale Shark Center Donsol, Sorsogon.

This day we were lucky to see 7 sharks. Be prepared that maybe you won’t see a shark so plan to stay at least 2 days.

 

A Fascinating Web of Life – Fireflies, plankton, Whale Sharks and people

Have you seen fireflies? I had the chance to see a lot of them in Bulgaria back in the day. You can see huge colonies of fireflies in Donsol feeding in the mangrove trees along the riverbanks. Mangroves are significant because they keep the rivers healthy and release important nutrients into the water. These nutrient-rich waters feed microscopic plankton—the source of the bio-luminescence. The plankton attracts the whale sharks who gather in schools there to feed on the plankton.

As a result, local Filipinos benefit from a booming eco-tourism industry. WWF has helped with whale shark tourism since 1998. Filipinos realized that a living shark can bring them more money than a killed shark. Programs have created jobs and provided a seasonal but steady source of income for the community.

 

BLISSFULNESS

On the way back to the shore I just lay in the boat, rain drops caressing me, I just went silent and stored these amazing moments in my heart. The big love filled my entire heart and I will never forget how blessed I was and I am.

Thank you!

The bar in the hotel – enjoying the amazing sunset!

 

Sincerely,

Irina

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