Saturday, August 27

Dolphins (but no Dugongs) at Dahican

Dahican beach! 

It had been over two years since Mel, Adri and I had first visited this bit of paradise in Mati, Davao Oriental. And we were back this time with Alex, Tere and Mark with the same mission: to try and see dugongs in the wild.  We hadn't had the luck to see them the last time, and so we were hoping for better luck this time around.

The beautiful 7 km Dahican Beach, known for skimboarding and surfing.
Ok, you might have guessed from the title of this post: we still didn't have that luck! Still, it was quite a memorable trip. And, this time I was actually able to see dugong feeding trails! (check out this google image search to see what I mean)

This time around, Mark had contacted the Amihan boys (and girls!) of the popular Amihan sa Dahican. These young men and women of Dahican are passionate about surfing, skimboarding and protecting the natural treasures of Mayo Bay which includes not only dugongs, but dolphins, sea turtles and the occasional whale shark!

Starting them young at Amihan sa Dahican (photo c/o Adri!)

Our base was Botona Beach Resort, a couple of hundred meters from Amihan sa Dahican. We started out early (not as early as birding though!) and were greeted by a gorgeous morning. 

While waiting for our boat, we took a look at a small, fenced off area on the beach which acted as a marine turtle hatchery.  We could see bits of egg shells scattered on the sand and were told that some of the eggs had hatched just a few days earlier.

The Turtle Hatchery at Amihan sa Dahican

It's too bad there weren't any hatchlings while we were there. It's estimated that only one in 1,000 - 10,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood. As soon as they emerge, they already face the danger of falling prey to predators, just as this little one we saw washed up on the beach :-(

Not the lucky 1 in 1,000 - 10,000 to make it to adulthood :-(
We did see several adult turtles in the water!  We saw Olive Ridley and Green sea turtles while we were there, both swimming under water and taking a breath at the surface. Great encounters.

As we took off on the boat, our guide Peter and spotter Iyay suggested looking for dolphins first. And who can say no to dolphins?

Our boat stayed close to the shore, and a few kilometers from our base, we spotted our first pod!  It was a very small group of Spinner Dolphins, just across from Tropical Kanakbai where we had stayed in 2014.  We didn't stay with the pod though, as Peter said these were breeding animals which we shouldn't be disturbing.

Do not disturb these individuals: in the process of making more dolphins!

On we went towards the mouth of the bay. The calm, deep blue sea reflected the blue skies.

Iyay, in a suit which reflected the skies, stood at the bow, perfectly balanced and looking out for our target. She looked extremely cool, daughter of the sea and skies!

We have birding attire, is this dolphin-ing attire?

Suddenly, in the distance, there was a leap in the air!  Our guides had located the larger pod!  Soon we were surrounded by Spinners!


Cameras all came out and we all enjoyed the show!

Out come the cameras!

Many of the dolphins were riding the bow of the boat and the clear water and the bright sunlight allowed wonderful views of the dolphins even under water!

Super clear waters!
There must have been over 200 individuals in the pod, and Peter was even able to take an underwater photo with Mel's tiny underwater action camera!  

Underwater views!

On my very first wild dolphin encounter in Bohol, our guide told us that to count dolphins, you must multiply by 5 every dolphin you see on the surface - it's the first time I've had an actual view of the dolphins beneath the surface! My first thought was "Times 5 lang ba talaga?!?"

Seeing dolphins in the wild brings out such joy for life. It must be their coordinated acrobatic leaps and graceful movement in the water.

By the time our dolphin encounter was over, it was apparently too late to look for dugongs! Dugongs are not gregarious animals like the dolphins, and late in the morning, they would have already moved away from their feeding grounds near the shore.

Sensing our disappointment at missing a dugong sighting, Peter very generously offered to take us out again the next morning.

Sunrise at Amihan sa Dahican
So, the next morning, Mark, Mel, Adri and myself were back at Amihan, even earlier!  Peter was there too. He lent us some fins as we were going to spend the next two hours (it could've been more!) swimming around the bay.  While the four of us snorkeled our way to deeper water, Peter took a paddle board that we could rest on if we got tired.

It was exciting to be constantly on the lookout at the sea grass beds as the water got deeper, and deeper, and deeper.  Peter pointed out the cris-crossing dugong feeding trails which gleamed white underwater with the bare sand showing through the sea grass.

As I said in the beginning, we were not fortunate enough to had seen a dugong that morning. There was the faintest view of one surfacing to breathe several meters away, and that was it. We swam all around the bay searching. Otherwise it was fish, starfish and several sea turtles! Our feet blistered from swimming with fins and the sun high, we swam back to shore defeated.

Dolphins and sea turtles, but no dugongs this time around. But as they say, there's always next time! 

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