According to Wildbook for Whale Sharks (whaleshark.org) – an online photo identification library that collates whale-shark sighting data – the 1,600th whale shark has recently been identified in Philippine waters. This means that the Philippines is home to the second-largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world!
This month’s cover story: Welcome back to Boracay!
With this amazing piece of news in mind, it’s to be expected that people from all around the world would want to flock to the Philippines to get up close and personal (responsibly, of course) with the largest fish in the sea. Check out these destinations for some unforgettable whale shark encounters.
Note: You may have heard of Oslob being the best place in the Philippines to spot whale sharks. However, because of extremely poor interaction practices and almost non-existent guidelines, we do not advise that you visit the place.
In the Bicol region of Luzon lies Donsol. Here, the whale sharks are protected and only snorkeling is allowed. There are strict guidelines in place; for instance, you’ll need to have a trained guide or spotter with you on every boat ride, who will then seek out the creatures for you. Peak season generally runs from December to May, but you can maximize your chances of spotting the gentle giants by timing your visit between February and April.
And it turns out that Donsol in the province of Sorsogon attracts the Philippines largest whale sharks and hosts the largest known whale shark aggregation in Southeast Asia. According to a recent scientific study by researchers from WWF-Philippines and the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines has revealed that whale sharks in Donsol are uncharacteristically larger than those found elsewhere in the Philippines. The collaborative study represents the longest dataset on whale sharks in the country and included the identification of 479 individual whale sharks.
How to get there: Fly to Legazpi airport; Donsol is then about 90 minutes away by car.
Leyte is not quite a well-known dive destination (yet), so you can look forward to uncrowded waters when you head south for some whale-shark action. Places like Sogod Bay in particular are excellent for sightings. The animals migrate through the waters from November through May, so plan your trip around that season to increase your chances of swimming with them.
How to get there: Fly to the Daniel Z. Romualdez airport in Tacloban, before taking a three-and-a-half-hour drive down to southern Leyte.
A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha is one of the best places in the country for incredible big fish action. The marine park is situated in a remote area of the Sulu Sea, south-east of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Accessible via liveaboard and only for three months a year (mid-March through mid-June), Tubbataha comprises two coral atolls and the Jessie Beazley Reef, a coral structure and dive site located about 20km north of the atolls. Whale sharks are often spotted here.
However, while the slow-moving filter feeding shark can seem curious and even friendly, be sure to keep a safe distance from the creature and do not touch it at all costs.
How to get there: Fly to Puerto Princesa international airport and contact your liveaboard operator to arrange for a land transfer to the port of Puerto Princesa.