Donsol used to be a sleepy coastal town in Sorsogon—a province in the southernmost tip of Luzon. Nobody knows Donsol except for, of course, its local inhabitants until a few years ago when tourists from all over the world began to flock this remote place to get a look-see at the largest fish on earth: the whale shark.
Before, fishermen in Donsol were ignorant of the ecological (and tourist) value of whale sharks. They used to hunt, slaughter and sell the poor gentle sea creatures to Japanese traders. Local folks call them “butanding” or “big fish” in the vernacular. Early sightings of the butandings were reported in the Visayan seas in Bohol further south. It was said that massive slaughtering caused their migration to Donsol waters.
Although, according to stories, the first butanding that was netted out in the area was also butchered. A marine biologist witnessed it and instantly recognized the fish as a rare marine species. The biologist immediately reported the incident to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international organization promoting the preservation of the wildlife.
WWF wasted no time and launched an education campaign about the giant creature. After coordinating with the Department of Tourism, whale-watching soon became a tourist activity that allowed extra income for the people of Donsol.
Whale sharks can grow up to 50 feet in length. It has a rather wide mouth with hundreds of pointed teeth. It usually comes in grey or greenish-brown colour with white or yellow spots all over its body.
It earned the label gentle giant of the sea because of its harmless nature, considering it is of the shark family. It has nothing in common with whales except for its size, thus the name. Divers can swim and interact with them and are only known to sink deeper into the ocean when it gets upset. There has been no known attack on humans of whale sharks.
Scientists are still baffled with the large migration of whale sharks in Donsol. These fishes are known to prefer the cold waters, not the tropical seas that we have. One explanation would be the flourishing of planktons in the area. Planktons are organisms that fill the diet of the whale sharks. It is also hard to record the number of whale sharks that now thrive in Donsol. But early studies show that whale sharks can travel 14,000 miles in 40 months and is capable of breeding in different sea environments.
Whale sharks swim on the surface of the water especially during the morning and early afternoon. It opens its mouth rhythmically when feeding on the planktons and visitors may be treated to this wondrous sight if they spot the fish at the perfect time. But don’t expect them to jump up and down the water like the whales or dolphins. That’s actually another beauty of the whale shark experience because this makes it perfectly easy and safe to get near them.