Whale shark time! Yess Finally after 3 years I get my chance to swim with the beasts, the biggest fish in the sea.
Ever since I first learnt to scuba dive back in 2010 on an island called Utila in the Caribbean I had wanted to swim with the whale shark. When I arrived in Utila everyone was in excitedly telling me how they had been seeing whale sharks every day on either their way out to the dive sites or on their way back to shore. I was just pumped to learn to dive, but to see a whale shark. YES PLEASE!
Of course the first day I got into the water with all my gear was the last day the whale sharks were sited in those areas. I was quite disappointed, mainly because I had that image of myself swimming with the biggest fish in the sea thanks to all the previous divers on the island raving about seeing so many.
Since then I knew I had to get myself in the water with these beats, and so I made it my goal for 2014, among a few other awesome bucket list items I had already participated in. But in order to swim with the Whale Shark I was off to the Philippines on my way back home from snowboarding Japan and hiking the great wall in China. Which suited me just fine as the Philippines is a tropical paradise and with just under a month there I could get my tan back through excessive amounts of vitamin D and also get my salt water fix at the same time. Little did I know it would turn out to be my favorite country and to even spend 3 months there would still not be enough. Yes guys, that means I will be back there again.
Anyhow after researching online for where to go to swim with the whale sharks. I found that although whale shark sightings are not guaranteed anywhere in the world. There is a place called Donsol, Sorsogon in the Philippines (close to Legazpi) where you have the highest chance of seeing them in the wild.
So I booked my ticket to arrive there first. Upon getting my feet on the ground in that little town, I immediately booked myself a boat along with some other travel buddies I had only just met hours before. Which, you as a traveller already know that these trips with strangers are always ones in which great friendships are made.
So we all got up early in the morning and headed down to the port to board our boat. The journey wasn’t far at all, about a 15 min boat ride out into the bay and then we cruised around looking for shadows and fins. I was so excited I could barely focus on the horizon let along vague shadows in the water.
Oh before I go too far I must say, that as we signed up to do this the previous day we had to do a briefing and watch a video. This made myself feel very comfortable about swimming with the whale sharkes. We were informed that the rules are only one boat per shark and only 6 people per boat. And we must stay away from the shark and definitely NO TOUCHING. So I thought, oh yea this is great, we aren’t hurting the shark or ourselves, this is going to be good.
We got out there and pretty quickly spotted the first shark. My adrenalin was pumping so much! I had been waiting all this time to see one and although we were told to be swift and silent whilst entering the water as to not scare the shark, our instructor was far from swift and we all jumped in like a bunch of clowns.
Getting into the water we swam over to the whale shark and caught a good glimpse. The water was a little murkier than I assumed making the visibility not the greatest. As we got a little closer to the whale shark it started to dive down. I peered over to my English mate I just met and signaled, “I’m going with it” I did a quick breathe up as I learnt when getting taught to free dive and dived down. As I reached the bottom at 12m the shark was humble and happy to swim solo with myself. He knew exactly where I was, what I was doing and was just happy to be away from the surface. Right there 12m down swimming along side this 10m whale shark, I was in awe and had happened to have a moment. You travellers know what I mean, one of those moments where you take a brief second. A second to think, how is this not anything more than super amazing and you can’t help but truly appreciate where you are and what is happening right in that present moment. It’s a glorious thing to have a moment, and a moment such as that, well it still brings a smile to my face and sends shivers spine.
Ok back to reality now and for just a little while, maybe 30 seconds under the water, my heart began racing like a 2 stroke engine on NOS, causing me to slowly cruise back up to the surface and gasp for oxygen.
As I slowly surfaced the shark swam off into green, I popped my head out of the water and couldn’t help myself but let off a “Wooooooo Hoooooo!”
I looked around on the surface and to my amazement saw 4-5 boats in the same vicinity with every passenger from each in the water ambitiously looking for the shark.
What is this I thought . . . I got back onto the boat and asked our captain/shark spotter “what are all the boats doing here, they can’t do that can they?” He caught my eye and shook his head as if to say “No, they can although they shouldn’t, but this is what happens anyway”.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. I mean I was exhilarated to swim with the whale sharks but not with the rest of the tourist population in Donsol. I considered myself lucky as I could free dive when everyone jumped in the water and swam after the shark. A lot of splashing and commotion went down on the surface of the water for about 35% of the people in the water couldn’t even swim at all, which means they were in life jackets. I mean if you can’t swim at all, then what makes you think you can swim with the whale sharks? I don’t know, that’s a touchy subject for me as I had a bad experience as I dive master with people who couldn’t swim, but that’s another story for another time.
So I soon realized what was happening. There is a lot of money to be made out of this for the locals and why would they turn down business when that’s what they need most. Hence more boats and more people. Although I do have to say swimming with the whale sharks is certainly one of the most amazing things I have done and probably will do. And I do recommend doing it, in the right place under the right circumstances, however in Donsol, it’s just not what I expected. To see them in the wild where no one else is looking for them would be exceptional and 100% the way to go. However for that to happen you need to be extremely lucky!
For me, in this instance, I considered myself luckier than most as from my (freedive) training I could dive down and swim solo alongside the whale sharks as long as my little lungs could take me. Here is where I was in awe, 10-15m down, no noise, just myself and the shark in all its beauty and grace. Now I know you may be thinking how adjectively romantic did I make that sound. But truth is, that’s exactly what it was like. Beautiful.