Going on the Butanding watch

This is the third part of a series of posts about my weekend trip to Donsol, Sorsogon for the Whaleshark experience. Previous posts in this series includes the budget for this Donsol trip (download Excel file here), and my musings about being back in Bicol after almost 6 years.

The Tourist Center is the starting point of the whale shark interaction experience. You are required to register and pay the interaction fee (Php100 for residents, Php300 for foreigners). This is also where you hire a boat, a crew and the Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO). Each boat is only allowed to carry 7 passengers (excluding the crew), and costs Php3,500 for the whole caboodle. If there are only two of you, the Php3,500 fee can be a huge amount, even if you split it. However, you can easily find and form a group of seven, since there’s a number of travelers traveling alone in these parts.

Color coded
I didn’t have an underwater camera so I will try to distract you with random photos like this.

Owen and I were supposed to join the other guests from our resort. Due to a mix up, there were only one spot left in their group. Luckily, another group was also missing one passenger, so we decided to split and join the groups.

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Before heading out to sea, everyone is required to watch the video briefing. Basically, it tells you about the whale shark and the proper way of behaving during the interaction. Once you finish (or when your boat is ready), you board the boat to start looking for these gentle giants.

Getting ready to dive

The best time for butanding watching they say is between December to May, where there is less rain and more sunny days. It was uncharacteristically rainy that week in the Bicol region. Well, it rains in Bicol throughout the year, but we had some unusually hard rainfall that time. The skies were clearing up, but it was still overcast and drizzles every hour or so. Sunshine is important for whale shark watching; visibility is greatly reduced if the sun isn’t out.

The interaction guidelines says that when one boat spots a whale shark, the other boats can’t go near and stalk the same whale shark. It also outlines that there can only be a certain number of people in the water at the same time. However, due to the weather and the poor visibility, the boats crowded around the same area, following the same butanding.

Too many people in the sea
Too many people swimming

Christine, who I saw at the Manila domestic airport and who has gone Butanding watching before, said that the whale shark would suddenly pop out of nowhere. Having a slight fear of drowning, I find this a bit disturbing. When we were in the water though, BIO Jun took my hand and swam with me to see the Butanding. He was pointing at something in the water and I was really straining to see what he was pointing at. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I see a grey shape dotted with spots. It’s a butanding!

Oh hai there
This is my only photo of the butanding. Pfft. But there’s always next time, right? ;)

It’s as if the sun suddenly came out from behind the clouds to give us additional meters of visibility. That and the butanding was swimming close to the surface. It was huge! It really was a sight to behold. Though I didn’t have an underwater camera with me (because I am an idiot), that’s one picture that I will always remember.

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We came back to the boat triumphant and exhilarated. We’ve already seen one, and we’re looking forward to see more! Our group saw a couple more after that, so by 11am, we were ready to head back to land.

Article by Nina Fuentes

Nina doesn't aim to travel to every country in the world -- she just wants to travel to the places that means the most to her. She started traveling in 2006, and hopes to travel for as long as she can. Her travel blog, Just Wandering won the Best Travel Blog in the 2010 Philippine Blog Awards and in the 2011 Nuffnang Asia Pacific Blog Awards.

This Article Has 14 Comments
  1. Christine says:

    It really is a sight to behold!! :D I think I’d actually like to do it again sometime. Hopefully with my nephews, they’d get such a kick out of the experience! :)

  2. nina says:

    I dreamt of butandings last night lol I can’t wait to do it again! I’m sure every kid would be excited about this kind of experience.

  3. Andy says:

    Hi, came across your very informative blog, keep in up. My wife, friend and myself will be flying into Manila on June 8 for 1 week. We will love to do this. You interested to be our guide :)? Or anyone else reading your blog with similar timing, pls drop me a line. Andy here. minchit@hotmail.com

  4. Escape | Something evil this way comes says:

    […] do I travel? It’s not for the animals, I’m not that much of an animal lover, though swimming with the whale shark was an awesome experience. It’s not because of the festivals, unless you count the Sydney […]

  5. an says:

    hhhmm nina, hindi ba nakakatakot tumalon from the boat to see the butanding? i will go there in May with Owen. bigla akong kinabahan nung sinabi ni owen na tatalon fromthe boat.. baka di na ako lumutang hahaha

  6. nina says:

    Hi an! Actually natatakot ako when I was thinking about it, while I was still on dry land. However, nung nasa boat na kami ang na-spot na nung guide yung Butanding, nawala na sa isip ko yung takot. They really are gentle creatures, and it swimming just below is (just watch out for his tail!) There are life vests on board naman if you need it. Have fun and enjoy your trip!

  7. Camille says:

    Hey you! So my sib and co. are coming home this July and they want to hit a beach (if it doesn’t rain then) but there’s plenty of those in San Diego so I told them about you and your trip to Donsol. How you can swim with the ‘whales’. They’re sold on the idea. Oh di ba unique!
    So this is me sending you smoochies for the review on Donsol. I hope it’s still hot by July. :P

  8. […] I put my head down the water (which is pretty weird, I think. I’ve already swam with a huge whale shark, sans life vest even, and here I am freaking out everytime I see the water level go past 10 feet). […]

  9. Takz says:

    Im a Donsolano. We are fortunate that we have this Gentle Giants that is why we did a lot of efforts for the conservation of our living treasure. Ty for the compliments, also this website. Those who wish to visit Donsol has a lot of infos about the tours and its particulars.
    Im a free-lance guide here in our town. My email takz78@yahoo.com cp 09217435677
    We would be very glad to see tourists with smiles after the whaleshark experience.

  10. Marilyn Razo says:

    Hi Nina, thanks for the site and space. What about a local tour of Albay and Sorsogon and see the majestic beauty of nature that Albay and Sorsgon offers? May i take this opportunity to invite you and everyone interested to come to Donsol to stay in AGULUZ HOMESTAY! It’s homey,nice, and comfortable place. It’s the best in town actually! It’s right at the heart of the town proper, just 5 minutes away from the Butanding interaction center by tricycle. Rate is affordable. An ac room with private bath is 1,700 pesos good for 4 pax; ac room with shared bath 1500php and fan room 800 php.
    We offer food for your hearts delight; two-way transfer from Legaspi-Donsol-Leg; swimming gears; disposale camera (in case you forget again);advance booking for WS interaction;boats for river cruising and firefly watching; local tours to Albay and Sorsogon; Mayon trek; internet (with Scype account) and WIFI. My email ad is razomarilyn@yahoo.com and contact numbers at +639189420897 and +639209528170. Hope to see you all the next butanding season.

  11. Joel BIO says:

    I am Joel BIO. As the new Vice-President of Donsol Butanding Interaction Officers, I would like to invite everybody to come and visit Donsol to swim with our Whalesharks.
    Guests can contact me for inquiries and infos about Donsol Tourism
    Also by email you can contact my partner takz78@yahoo.com
    Sure you will enjoy Donsol !!!

  12. anna says:

    Hi this is a funny and informative blog!! great job!!!
    Would you (or anyone) know if there are still Butandings by late June / early July?
    my schedule doesnt coincide with the season and im sad…
    i really wanna see the Butandings!!

  13. joel says:

    Hi Friends

    I would like to invite everybody to come here in Donsol to enjoy our Butanding.
    For questions about our tour offer pls mail me at presbio@yahoo.com
    Or call or text me in 63+929-817-5654

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