Ever since beginning my scuba adventure in Kota Kinabalu with a Padi Open Water course, I’ve been obsessed with diving. While I would consider myself a more macro diver (I love the little critters. I mean, have you SEEN an orangutan shrimp? The name alone is wonderful), after a couple years of diving I figured that I needed to branch out and begin to explore the big stuff.
Having only two weeks of vacation and wanting to escape from the world, I found what I thought to be the perfect island paradise in the Philippines: Ticao Island Resort. I wasn’t asking for much really; diving, horseback riding, an island and no Internet (they actually had it, but the reviews said that it was shaky). I booked a week diving on the island using Donsol Eco Tours.
Donsol is known for Whale sharks and markets a series of snorkel tours swimming with the Whale sharks. You can sign up in advance or sign up the day of if it’s off season.
I saw a group of boats, circling one shark, like vultures swooping in.
They say that the tours respect the animals. Only 1 or 2 boats are allowed for each whale shark and you are not allowed within 10 feet of the Whale sharks. This is not true. I saw a group of boats, circling one shark, like vultures swooping in. People rolled off the boats like awkward Navy Seals right in front of the shark and on top of each other. They looked like a bunch of piranhas crazed by food: the water churned with arms and legs flailing about. A writhing mass of bodies. Listening to people chat as they got back from their trip, I heard that several people had been elbowed, one forced underwater, etc. Not worth it! Do you know any better snorkeling spots? Please let us know by leaving your feedback below.
Because of this horrible experience, I transferred to Ticao Island Resort for the scuba. The waters near Ticao are known to have Manta Rays, and I was hoping to spot one on at least one of my 9 dives. On the 7th dive, we had been down for 40 minutes with nothing to see but a cloudy blue. I was beginning to feel sorry for myself: I had not seen any Mantas, the horseback riding didn’t work out as ALL of the horses were pregnant, and I was distressed to see some coral devastation in the area due to blast fishing, dropping dynamite into the water, though it was illegal.
I turned to watch him pass and was nearly run down by a second Whale shark that had come up behind me.
Under water, every time we went searching for Mantas it was the same cloudy blue with very little life. It was no different today. We reached our safety stop and I, trying to think positively, was going through the massive list of fish we saw in the shallow water when our Dive Master went crazy banging on his tank. We all turned to him and followed his fingers to see a massive dark spot slowly taking shape into a Whale shark the size of a bus. I turned to watch him pass and was nearly run down by a second Whale shark that had come up behind me. Five (or four–there was a debate among us divers) Whale sharks swam with us for several minutes checking us out and, seemingly, playing with us. It was exhilarating!
Here’s the footage!
I came for the Mantas, but I swam with the Whale sharks.
Check out the photos of the orangutan shrimp (midway down the page) in the Philippines from this cool travel blog called Nomads for a Year.