Monday, November 17, 2008

Donsol's Butanding


"Everyone has to experience the whale sharks at least once in their


Albay's neighboring province to the south, Sorsogon, is host to one of the highest concentration of Whale Sharks in the world. These creatures have been frequenting the waters off Donsol, Sorsogon for generations and in 1998, the Philippine Department of Tourism declared this area an official sanctuary for the Whale Shark, thus protected this fascinating species.

Although Whale Sharks, or "Butanding" as they are locally known,
are enormous in size and power, reaching lengths greater than 15 meters, they are remarkably gentle and docile enough that it is generally safe to swim among them. Swimming among the whale sharks is a captivating experience. If you are not comfortable swimming in the waters, then it is just as amazing to experience them from the boat. The Butanding swim along side the boat all the time.

Generally, the whale sharks at Donsol swim very close to the surface of the water. Some basic snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, fins and a water vest) are just about you'll need in the water to be able to experience swimming among them.

Getting there: Donsol, Sorsogon is approximately 1-hour drive away from Legazpi City. The roads all the way to Donsol are well-paved, scenic and very accessible. There are several Taxis available that make daily routes from Legazpi to Donsol, Sorsogon.

What to bring: Although food is available at a number of locations in Donsol, you can bring your own if you want to enjoy a picnic there. If you plan to eat at Donsol, check with the Donsol Tourism Office for accredited eating establishments. Bring plenty of water.

You can bring along your snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins and water vest) but if you don't have any, these are also available for rental at the Donsol Tourism Office. Bring your swimsuits, towels, camera, some sun screen, sunglasses, a change of clothes, slippers, as well as sealable plastic bags to keep valuables. You can bring your own Life Vest, but these are also available on the boat.

Arriving at Donsol, Sorsogon: Once in Donsol, proceed to the Donsol Tourism Office. If you drove in your own vehicle, there is plenty of space to safely park your vehicle there. If you took a public vehicle, make arrangements for your return trip to Legazpi. At the Tourism Office, you will be required to register and attend a brief orientation session prior to heading out to see the Whale Sharks. You will also be required to pay the fee for: Boat Rental and Crew, Registration, and snorkeling equipment rental (if needed). The maximum number of registrants per boat is 7 people.

After Registration: After a brief orientation period on the rules and guidelines, you are ready to head out to sea on a 12m (40ft) boat. Your group will be accompanied by a BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) who will serve as your guide while you're out in the water, one Spotter, on the look-out for the Butanding, and two crew members to man the boat.

Out in the Water: While there are no guarantees of being able to see the Whale Sharks, you can count on it that if you are there in the right time and season, it can literally take only a few minutes after leaving shore before you come across the first Butanding! Generally, you do not need to be out in deep waters in order to interact with the Whale Sharks. Your BIO will point them out and educate you on how to spot them, as well as provide additional information you need to know during the experience. The BIO's are quite knowledgeable and friendly, and are willing to answer your questions. When the BIO feels that the situation is ideal, he will instruct the crew on the boat's approach to the whale shark, and take the lead in getting you ready for the experience.

Seeing the Butanding for the first time is an extremely exciting experience. It is very important to keep the safety procedures in mind, and always follow the lead and instructions of your BIO.

Duration: The whole experience can last anywhere from 1-4 hours, depending on how long you want to be out in the sea.

Season and Timing: Although Butanding are spotted year-round in the waters off Sorsogon, the season starts around November and goes on through May. The peak season is February through April. The best times to go are in the morning, as the waters are clearer and it easier to spot the Whale Sharks. According to the locals, the Whale Sharks are also more abundant before noon. On peak season, it is very common for each visitor to see more than a dozen different Butanding.


Seeing the Whale Shark for the first time is a very exiting experience! Keep in mind the safety precautions discussed during the briefing period, as well as those dictated by your BIO (Buntanding Interaction Officer).
Always follow the lead and instructions of your BIO.
Inspect and test your equipment for proper function prior to jumping in the water.
If you have not used basic snorkeling equipment before, inform your BIO that you will want to take a few minutes to get acquainted with your snorkeling equipment. Practice breathing through the snorkel and swimming around with the fins. You can practice in shallow waters before heading out.
Let your BIO know about your swimming skills. If you are an inexperienced swimmer, wear your safety vest at all times and stay close to your BIO when in the water.
Do not jump in the water without the go-ahead signal from your BIO. Always make sure you are a safe distance away from the boats parts before focusing your attention on the whale sharks.
Underwater photo equipment is allowed, although any artificial lighting or flashes are prohibited.
Do not touch, ride or impede the movement of the whale shark.
Maintain a distance of 3 meters from the head and body of the whale shark, and 4 meters from the tail section.
Maximum of six swimmers and one boat are allowed per whale shark.
Keep the environment clean, dispose of trash and waste in proper receptacles.
Good luck and enjoy your Whale Shark Interaction experience!

WHALE SHARK SIGHTINGS in Albay GulfThe world’s largest living fish (and shark) is becoming a more frequent visitor to the Albay coast. They say the creatures were a common site in Albay waters, but have become far more common during the past months while the Mayon is in the state of “quiet” eruption. On August 23, around 3:56 p.m. nine sightings and five encounters with the Butanding (local name) had been recorded.

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