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Whaleshark spotting in Donsol, Philippines

April 9, 2014 – 7:10 pm

“Butanding interaction” is the Philippines’ official term for swimming with whalesharks. Butanding, a Bicol dialect word, means blind shark, which is how local fishermen once thought, incorrectly, of these creatures. Local whaleshark guides are known as Butanding interaction officers – or BIO – a somewhat pompous term for a good ol’ boy who has known these leviathans since long before they became ecotourism pin-ups.
The docile giant cruises slowly through the slightly turbid waters of Donsol Bay on the southeast coast of Luzon. Some characters around Donsol claim they discovered whale sharks. These giant cartilaginous fish have probably congregated for eons in this wide, plankton and krill-rich bay in Sorsogon province, but it was only a decade ago that they came to public attention.

Whaleshark interactions occur for short periods each year off Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, as well as in Belize and other tropical waters, but the highest concentration is thought to be at Donsol, where the whale sharks linger for almost half the year.

Donsol’s whale shark industry is a textbook example of ecotourism succeeding on several levels. Fortunately, the discovery of the butanding, the subsequent influx of tourists and the close regulation of their interaction were virtually concurrent. As a result there are no entrenched jet-ski mafia, speedboaters or ride-the-whale-shark entrepreneurs to be battled against later.

Local fishermen immediately saw that the giant creatures were worth far more alive than dead. With more than 12,000 visitors a year, many Donsol families have found work in the industry and the small resorts that have sprung up along the shore, billed as whale shark capital of the world.

Whale sharks are common in Donsol from December to June; December-January is peak period. Definitely avoid the crowds during Easter Holy Week. The annual Butanding Festival is held at the beginning of May.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Whaleshark spotting in Donsol, Philippines”

  2. Hi Nina, thanks for the site and space. What about a local tour of Albay and Sorsogon and see the mitsejac 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 and contact numbers at +639189420897 and +639209528170. Hope to see you all the next butanding season.

    By Lacerda on Sep 11, 2014

  3. Im a Donsolano. We are fortunate that we have this Gentle Giants that is why we did a lot of etffros 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 cp 09217435677We would be very glad to see tourists with smiles after the whaleshark experience.

    By Joseluis on Dec 8, 2015

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