The Donsol Experience: Swimming with the Whale Sharks

The anticipation is messing with your head. You could have sworn your heart was right next to your ear, as you hear the thumps bang against your eardrums. You glance at your designated spotter squinting at a distance, before swapping Bicolano with the other boatmen. You nervously fidget with your snorkel mask. Wait, did he just say… ‘Jump!’?

And you jump, right into the chilly beryl deep. After a few chaotic seconds of flailing limbs underwater, you compose yourself and catch sight of what you came all this way for: the magnificent leviathan of a fish, nonchalantly passing by in all its 8-metre spotted glory. Everything else fades into the background. You feel that it’s just you, and the giant. It takes all self-control not to reach out and hold on to its fin, ala-Free Willy.

We were blessed with a sunny day in Donsol; all in all, we spotted 4 whale sharks. It’s said that in season, it’s actually rare NOT to see at least one. Some of them glided slowly, letting you bask in its graceful splendor; some of them will really make you work your fins. During the interactions, the guides will remind you to stay at least 5 feet away from the whale sharks, as to not spook them or more importantly, not to get swatted by its tail. At one time, I was gliding along on top of the whale shark, when I noticed the spots getting larger by the second. I soon realized it was trying to surface. In my head, I was going like ‘5 feet! 5 feet!’ at the titan. My friends who dove in with me saw this as well. They swore that given a few more seconds, I could have gotten a free ride on the back of the whale shark. He plunged into the deep again after a while, and once the nervousness wore off, the thought of that rare close encounter still gives me smiles up to this day.

Close encounter of the BIG kind.

Donsol is one hour away by land from Legazpi City, Philippines. There are a lot of sites offering information on how you can organize your own Donsol whale shark experience; here’s one from the regional tourism site.

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