Friday, May 28

swimming with giants...

I glanced nervously at the deep green water.  I was never much of a swimmer and jumping into deep water (and I mean can't-see-the-bottom-or-anything-else-deep) is always pretty daunting.  I clutched at my bright -orange life vest and took a deep breath.  "How big will it be?" I wondered.  Elmer our BIO (that's Butanding Interaction Officer) was explaining how it was easier to be at the head of the animal rather than staring at a the tail swimming away.  Head? Hmmm, head = mouth.  Well, even if it was still technically a shark and I kept reminding myself that it ate microscopic animals.

"Ayun! Ayun! Meron na!" the boatmen shouted, themselves surprised.  We were only 15 minutes away from the beach!  I didn't expect a sighting so soon!  There was a mad scramble as Suzy, Bigi, Adri and I grabbed our fins and snorkels.  Elmer quickly grabbed the 2 closest people to him (Suzy and Bigi) and without warning, jumped off the side of the boat.

 I sat on the edge of the boat hesitatingly.  "Jump! Jump! Jump! Faster, faster!" screamed the boatmen at me.  And in my confusion... I jumped off the boat, praying I wouldn't hit the katig.

Salty water entered my snorkel and I blew hard to clear it.  I looked down... it was so murky!  This thick plankton soup must be what these fish are here for, but where was it?  

I looked down and blinked.  All I could see was gray... and... spots?

What the....?  It was right below me!  I was never good at estimating depth in the water but I glanced left and right... spots... spots... spots! Holy cow, how big was this animal?  And all of a sudden I saw a giant tail sweep... and it was gone.  Everything was murky green again.  Had I imagined it?

I lifted my head out of the water and saw that everyone else was smiling and talking excitedly.


Our bangka, the Giana Bless circled back and let down a ladder to help us get back on. "Nakita nyo ma'am?" asked the smiling spotter who, not 10 minutes earlier, had been screaming his head off at me to jump.

What an encounter.

For the next three hours we would repeat the routine 8 more times.  Sometimes not all of us would see it, the best sightings were when we were dragged along by Elmer so we could actually swim right beside or on top of the beast.

  The polka-dotted giant

Gone with a sweep of a tail

There was an encounter with one small one, probably 5 meters long, which sticks clearly in my mind.  Several boats had seen it so there were several snorkelers in the water.  I couldn't see where it was, when Adri pulled my arm and pointed to my left.  The was sunlight streaming in ribbons in the green water and it hit the "tiny" shark just as it turned and opened its huge mouth.  The sunlight on its back made the spots shine like diamonds.  Because it was "small" I could see it from head to tail. I stopped and watched it swim away unmindful of the small throng of snorkelers following it. Wonderful creature.  God must have had a good laugh when he decided this giant beast should have spots.

At the end of the morning, each of us had seen at least 6 whale sharks each.  After the fourth sighting or so... we just really enjoyed jumping in the cool water and looked forward to the sight of (part of) a butanding swimming gracefully beneath us.

This is one animal encounter that I'll never forget.  (And I didn't even have to climb a mountain or stay in the middle of the jungle!) Another reason to love the Philippines.

The Giana Bless

BIO Elmer

Elmer & the spotters

Butanding Interaction
Donsol, Sorsogon
May 2010

video clip:
more pictures:


  1. haha. no. di yan kaya i-focus ng bins or scope sa lapit!
    taken with my point-and-shoot with an ill-fitted underwater soft case! :-) does the job though.

  2. wow trinket! i would love to see one of these someday! liesl and family were able to swim with one in bicol and it was amazing, they said! hope you are well!

  3. oops, sorry! it was also donsol where they went!

  4. grabe ano? you and i are the same. we are both afraid of not being able to feel the bottom of the ocean. hehehe. but it was all worth it di ba?

  5. you should try this when you visit!