Kicking Off the 2017 Summer in Bicol (Part 3): Swimming with the Whale Sharks

Coming from Matnog in the morning, we arrived in Donsol around 3pm in the afternoon after a long jeepney ride and several transfers. Upon arrival in the city proper, we boarded a tricycle going to the resort we’d be staying in – the Amor Farm Beach Resort.

The place has a quiet, laidback atmosphere – the pathways to the rooms framed by carabao grasses, a swing, a basketball court, a restaurant, cottages, and finally the beach.

amor farm beach resort donsol

The Resort

We had a few hours of daylight left when we arrived at the Amor Farm, and we spent those hours exploring the resort – trying the swing, walking on the shore, and watching the sunset.

The beach was not very impressive, a bit muddy with quite a lot of seaweeds. The sunset was lovely, though. Check out this photo:

donsol sorsogon sunset

The food in its Kawn Kita (a translation of ‘let’s eat’ in Bicol) Restaurant was truly impressive. We especially loved their ‘kinunot’, a Bicol specialty made from pagi (stingray) with malunggay cooked in coconut milk. It was heavenly. The restaurant is open, so guests can enjoy the sea breeze while dining. The rooms were also beautiful and well equipped, each with a small tiled veranda that gave it a homey feel.

kawn kita restaurant in amor beach resort donsol

Kinunot and Sweet and Sour Shrimp

The resort rents out swimming gear for those who are planning to swim with the whale sharks – a set of goggles and fins for Php250.

The Whale Shark Experience

Those who would like to enjoy an encounter with the whale sharks in Donsol would need to proceed to their Whale Shark Interaction Center, which was within walking distance from our resort. Here’s how the process goes:

  1. You need to register at the center – fill out a form with all the necessary information.
  2. You will be asked how many you are in the group. Each boat can accommodate six (6) guests. If there are just two (2) of you, for instance, the center will find a group that you can join.
  3. You will be asked to watch a video orientation before you board the boat in order to know the dos and don’ts when interacting with these animals.
  4. Once the center finds a group you can join, you will then pay the fee (Php685 per pax).
  5. It’s time to meet the whale sharks! NOTE: Our tour guides repeatedly told us that seeing a whale shark is not guaranteed. However, don’t let this dishearten you. If you come at the right season (March to May), you are most likely to encounter one.

Each boat will have 3-4 guides: a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO), a boat captain, and a spotter. The latter is the one that searches for the whale sharks.

Some facts we learned: A fully grown whale shark can be as big as a school bus (perhaps even bigger). It’s easier to swim with an adult ‘butanding’ since a younger one is almost always fast-moving and would easily disappear.

So there we were, goggles and fins ready, and all excited to jump into the sea for our whale shark encounter. It could take a long time before the guides spot a whale shark, so patience is a must. When finally we had spotted one, however, the wait was well worth it.

We went to the side of the boat, jumped one by one, and there it was, gigantic and breathtaking and simply beautiful. Swimming with it, it was a joyful experience. No adrenaline, no overly excited emotions, just simply peace – like there was only me and the fish in the water, all noise drowned, God showing me how truly magnificent His work is.

The whale sharks can be there one moment, and then gone the next, having swam deeper into the ocean. So we had to go back to the boat and the search is on again. This happened several times, so we got to interact with several whale sharks during that experience. It was truly once in a lifetime, and I’d love to do it again if given the chance.

The center has several regulations in place that protect the whale sharks from any danger and maintain their habitat while ensuring that their natural behavior also remains unaltered. There is a limit to the number of boats that go to sea each day, as well as the number of visitors that may interact with a whale shark at any given time.

I was just a little worried because I saw one of the policies they have is to have a ratio of one boat per one whale shark, and I thought this means once a boat spots a whale shark, other boats can no longer approach it.

However, this was not what I observed during my visit. Whenever a whale shark is spotted, several boats would head to the fish’s location and would take turns having their guests interact with the fish until the whale shark disappears again. Granted that the guests from all the different boats don’t go into the water altogether, but I’m worried the crowding of the boats may cause some disturbance. And also, I saw one of the whale sharks with a cut on its tail – I just hope it didn’t get the said cut from the tourists.

I’m really glad Donsol is trying its best to promote tourism while keeping the whale sharks safe, and I hope it will continue to work hard to maintain the proper balance between the two.

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For those who are planning to visit Sorsogon for a whale shark encounter and is looking for a place to stay, here are the rates of Amor Farm Beach Resort:

amor farm beach resort

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