Swimming with whale sharks

Mavic Conde

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A travel blogger shares her experience of swimming with the 'butanding' for the first time

THE GENTLE BUTANDING OF Donsol, Sorsogon. All photos from Mavic Conde

MANILA, Philippines – Swimming with whale sharks makes you feel high. It will make you want to go back and experience the thrill of seeing such a magnificent creature again.

This is what people often say about their encounter with a whale shark in Donsol, Sorsogon, and I couldn’t agree more.

Tita Lili, a travel blogger, said it best when she wrote that “swimming with these gentle giants, one is never prepared for such an awesome experience.”

No matter how you get yourself ready for a butanding encounter, when it finally happens, you’ll still find yourself awed.

The moment will overwhelm your senses — this is enough to make you forget to take photographs the first time you see the colossal sea creature gliding smoothly in the water and right before your eyes.


If it’s your first time, I believe it’s normal to get freaked out.

“What if its fin hits my feet; will I get injured?” “What if its mouth is wide open the moment we jump into the sea?” The best way to overcome negative thoughts like these is to simply have faith in your BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer).

BIO’s are well-trained, highly-informed and dedicated to their work. You’ll find them at the Donsol Visitors Center in Barangay Dancalan. These qualities are at least is true of our requested BIO, Kuya Randy.

What made me so sure about Kuya Randy’s dedication to his work was his inability to hide his frustration (however he tried to) when we missed the butanding the first time we tried to see it. He tried to muster a fake smile but his eyes were saying “sayang” and “sorry.”


Whether it was my friend’s fault (for hesitating to jump into the water, thus we missed the butanding) or Kuya Randy’s desperate attempts to make sure that we would not go home seeing nothing, what matters is that he easily recognized that — for first-timers and non professional swimmers — it wouldn’t work if we were grouped by three when we jumped into the water.

In our next attempts, we were grouped by two, then by three. When he was certain that we were already used to the routine, he let us be when the whale sharks came. He allowed us to swim with the whale sharks freely.

The happiness we all felt was indescribable.


Whale sharks are called the “gentle giants” of the sea, nicknamed “dominos” because of their spots.

If you haven’t experienced swimming with them — the largest fish of the ocean — I highly suggest you plan your trip now. You won’t regret it. – Rappler.com

[To know more about how to swim with the butandings of Donsol, call Salvador Achao at the Donsol Visitors Center: +639272330364 (www.lonelyplanet.com). We have more butanding stories from our readers. Keep posted for them!]

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