Butanding – the Whale Shark

The only internationally renowned tourism attraction in this part of the Philippines is the Whale Shark watching (or Butanding for locals, in Bicol). Donsol – a seaside town – one hour drive away from Legazpi City. The whale sharks can be seen in the bordering seas, is the largest number of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere in the world. This largest fish can be seen around February to March each year. Swimming with whale sharks was featured in Time Magazine as the “Best Animal Encounter in Asia” in 2004.


Our shark encounter adventure was last weekend. We drove to one of the many resorts, next to Donsol Tourism Office for tourists. We were required to register personal information and stated which of the attraction we were going to do. Butanding interaction or Butanding sightseeing. We teamed up with other couples – so the whole experience cost about USD 130 for a boat, a guide and some crews. Excluding the rental of snorkeling equipment such as mask, snorkle and fins

Donsol Tourism Office

About 6 boats set out to the sea, each boat has one spotter who stands at the top of the sail searching for the shark. It is as big as a house, so very easy to be sighted. He said he was only looking for a moving shadow on the sea. When one spotter see one, all the boats will close in and swimmers will jump off the boat and start swimming towards the shark. 

the glimpse of the Shark that I saw – once only

As a coward as I am, and also no snorkeling and flipper handling experience whatsoever, I freaked quite a number of times and the guide had to stay by me most of the time. I only saw the shark once, when the guide pulled me under the water and made me see one who swam right beneath us. It was gigantic. Thankfully, they are plankton-eating fish. There was like more than 20 dives only in 3 hours’ time. Very busy. At the end of the trip, I was one of the crew of the boat, helping people got on to the boat. D had seen more than 5 sharks, and the other Australian couple actually dived and swam alongside the sharks.

There were boats with Asian tourists (Japanese and Taiwanese, I presumed). The passengers looked as scared as I was, stayed put in the boat with life jackets on. Never once got off the boat. They were just observers. When the western tourists like my husband and his friends were jumping on and off the boats like maniacs chasing the sharks here and there. That was too funny!   

D in the water – first from left – false alarm and the neighbouring boat full of divers

 So tips for other wild-life fanatics before going on the trip :

Learn to snorkle properly. Wear decent swimwear. Bikinis are not cool. Lots of sun block. Bring some snack and water on board. Bring water resistant camera (we bought one of those disposable ones – not yet developed) . Rental equipments are quite dodgy, if possible bring your own. 

It will so worth it.  


7 Responses to “Butanding – the Whale Shark”

  1. 1 ecky February 20, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Aw aw.. that shark is soooooo big. I’m a big wuss. I will freak out just like you when I see that big sharp under neath.

    But I also freak out if I can’t see the sea bottom when I snorkel, I almost break the guide’s arm when I snorkel in Bunaken 🙂

  2. 2 LB February 20, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Wow! What an experience of a lifetime, to be up so close and personal with a whale shark! Lucky you! 🙂

  3. 3 colson February 20, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Not that bad an environment after all, don’t you agree? It’s even beautiful and exciting. And – judging by the building- not totally spoiled by the tourism industry either.

    But, did the rain stop?)

  4. 4 Jientje February 20, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Gosh! That is awesome! That is indeed the experience of a lifetime, butr if I were you, I would consider your own good advice and do that again, next year or so?
    I’m jealous! My husband taught me how to snorkle when we met, that’s how I fell in love with him, and whenever I see diving, or swimming with the dolphin or swimming with the whale stories I wish I could do that again!

  5. 5 Sandy (Momisodes) February 20, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Wow! That sounds amazing! I’m a huge wuss too. I’ve been snorkeling in the ocean just a few times with tiny harmless fish everywhere, and that was enough to freak me out!

  6. 6 Emily Marshall February 27, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    That shark is one of the scariest things I have ever seen, vegetarian or otherwise. I’d be worried he might mistake me for a large, white piece of plankton. I hear sharks have poor eyesight.

  7. 7 Lizeth February 29, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    we’re going at the end of this month! thanks sa tips!! 🙂
    ayoko matakot! i cant swim kasi e 😀

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