A whale of a disappointment
Donsol, Philippines


Soon enough 4am rolled around and time to do something again – check in for my flight. This is an airport that does not sleep. A buzz of activity ran through the night. Even at 4am in the morning, it could have been the middle of the day.

The flight to Legazpi is just an hour from Manila. I fell asleep as soon as I sat down, so didn’t notice the delay in departing. Flying into Legazpi airport, we circled around the majestic Mt Mayon – an active, conical volcano, slightly smoking at the top. It is a small airport, with bags handed to you straight off the trolley from the plane! Despite being small, we were still met with the usual cries for taxis. I managed to bump into another few people headed to donsol, so we shared a taxi for the 90 minute drive.

After 90 minutes of speeding around winding corners and feeling quite sick, we rolled into Donsol.

Donsol is a small, primarily fishing, town that has become famous due to the numbers of whalesharks (locally known as Butanding) that gather in the waters just off the shore to feed on the numerous plankton during March to May.

Whalesharks are the largest species of fish recorded. They can grow up to 14m in length. They are filter feeders, with large mouths to filter out the plankton.

After a short rest, I caught a habal-habal (motorbike taxi) for the 10 minute drive to the visitors centre to register for a whaleshark trip tomorrow. However, once I got there they said I could go straight out in half an hours time! Awesome! But I wasn’t at all prepared. So, headed back to town to pick up my stuff, then straight back to the centre in record time.

After watching the compulsory video about how to snorkel (I think I can just about manage) and waiting for another half an hour, they cancelled. Apparently no whalesharks had been spotted on the earlier 7am departures, so they weren’t running any more boats for the day. Rubbish.

So back to town! By now, the habal-habal drivers seemed to know me by name!!

Donsol is just a small town, just a couple of streets big. I had a wander around the church, school and market. Everyone I saw said hello, they are all very friendly here, no hassle at all. Made my walk all the more enjoyable.

Friday 11 May 2012

Up early this morning and off to the visitors centre, ready armed with fins and mask for some whaleshark time! By 7am, we had enough people to fill a boat and we headed off in a small (and very slow!) outrigger boat, to find some whalesharks.

Every boat is allocated a BIO (Butanding Information Officer) basically, I think, someone to stop you from drowning as all I saw him do was hold a life ring. However, I don’t really know their role as ours didn’t speak a single word to us the whole time! We also had a couple of spotters on the boat who were on the look out for the sharks.

There were not many boats out this morning. All were following a similar pattern to ours, circling a certain patch of water just along side the coast. We drove and drove and drove for 3.5 hours and saw nothing. It was such a disappointment. Just as we were headed back to the shore to moor up, there was a sudden flurry of activity. The driver swung the boat round (as fast as that is possible in such a slow boat) and the spotters were shouting and looking into the water next to the boat. No one explained what was going on, so we all got a bit excited. Then, one of the guys pulls out of the water a broadclub cuttlefish. I was horrified! Poor cuttlefish. We were all a bit stunned.

So all a bit disappointed, I headed back to the town to continue my day of doing nothing.

Although Donsol is world famous for the number of whalesharks that frequent its shores every day – particularly in the hugh season of March to May – apparently no whalesharks have been spotted for a couple of days now. And even in the last few weeks there have been very few of them. Some of the local business owners are a bit worried about the lack of sharks about.


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