Monday, February 18, 2008

EP13 (Feb20): Swimming with the Giants

“Butanding” is how we call this gentle giants feeding in the waters of Donsol, Sorsogon. This amazing creature is the largest living fish in the world with sizes reaching 18meters or even more. They’re migratory and travel vast distances – (w/c puts them at risk of visiting an area where they’re not protected), they’re surface feeders (swimming near the surface) eating planktons and krills – and hence frequent encounters with fishermen is not uncommon.

With its prized fins, skin and meat (an individual’s price can range from 100,000 to 400,000 pesos)– it was unfortunately hunted down which led to its population decline, prompting agencies and government to declare it as endangered. It is now protected by law, not just in the Philippines but around the world.

Today, Donsol grew from a 5th class, sleepy town – to a 3rd class tourist hotspot. Local and foreign tourists frequent the place from December to June, to get a chance to see and swim with these giant fishes. Donsol is probably one of the most successful eco-tourism stories in the Philippines – with the great giant sharks being protected and conserved, and local community getting big bucks from them at the same time.

WWF (Donsol) introduced this Photo ID program to us. I tried to help take photos, although I didn’t think I helped a lot hehe. It’s difficult to swim, dive and take a photo while trying to appreciate those special encounters with the Whalesharks. The Photo ID program is a remarkable progress in the monitoring, research and conservation effort for the Whalesharks. It’s a citizens’ program wherein ANYBODY can submit a photo of any whaleshark, together with other valuable data such as date, location, other shark description (size, markings) – and the data is then uploaded to a central database. Did you know that the dot patterns in the Whaleshark’s skin is unique to each individual and hence can be used to identify who’s who? Amazing!
You want more info – visit The photo and data collected in this central repository is very useful to check on the population growth or decline, as well as track down the migratory patterns of these animals. In the future, this will help WWF and other agencies identify w/c migratory area should be protected and managed.

My key message for this episode: Let's all support eco-tourism programs in the Philippines (like Donsol's) - you will definitely have fun but at the same time help the local community and help the preservation of our wildlife. Saan ka pa?!

Wildlife encounter: 7 Butandings (maybe 1-2 individual repeats), sizes range from 4m to 7-8m.Condition: Choppy seas, windy, overcast, occasional rain. What’s new?! :)