Whale shark of Donsol
April 2004
Donsol is a small town, located at the south of Luzon island in Philippines. It takes about an hour flight from Manila and 2 hours drive from Legaspi airport to get to this place. The bay of Donsol during the high season becomes truly the whale shark capital of the world. Whale sharks (locally called "butanding") are frequently seen here from February to May. They can be spotted as early as October/December onwards. However, I learned from the hotel guest-book, that before February there are only single encounters. The peak of activity is in April when the number of whale sharks in Donsol bay is higher than anywhere else in the world. Look at these numbers of whaleshark interactions during my short visit in April of 2004:

April 19, 7 sharks,12.30 to 15.30
April 20, 22 sharks, 8.00 to 13.00
April 21, 37 sharks, 7.30 to 13.00
April 22, 40 sharks, 7.30 to 12.30
April 23, 31 sharks, 8.00 to 10.00

It is hard to say how many whale sharks were actually at the bay during those days. Some of them were easily distinguishable by characteristic scars left by boat propellers on their dorsal and tail fins.
The best time for interaction is early morning when whale sharks feed. Until 10 am they usually swim with widely open mouth which they close if somebody tries to approach. Underwater visibility is quite poor, 5 to 10 meters, due to high concentration of plankton, shallow depth (4-15 meters) and silty bottom.
Whale sharks are not afraid of humans, although, they don't like them either. When you are too close they slowly turn away, when you are above them - they dive. If they dive deeper than 5 meters, poor visibility leaves you little chance to trace it. In such cases you return to the boat and wait until the spotters find another one.
Scuba diving with whale sharks is not allowed in Donsol. Only snorkeling and skin diving are acceptable. When this gigantic creature slowly and gracefully approaches the boat, you may anticipate a pleasant interaction. Well... when you are in the water you realize that it is not so "slow" and you need stamina to keep up with it. My suggestion is, before embarking on such an adventure - take intensive swimming training for a few months.
Interaction can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. My longest interaction lasted 40 minutes. After two unsuccessful attempts to escape me, a 10 meter long whale shark stopped paying any attention to me and enjoyed its usual breakfast. It swam quite "slowly" so I could keep close for some time. Until today scars from my fins still remind me of that race.
Despite such high concentration of whale sharks in Donsol bay, they are rarely spotted in the neighbouring waters.

Another great place to see whale sharks is near Darwin, the northern most island of Galapagos.
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