Leyte (south)

We still wanted to see the whale sharks and while we decided not to go for the Oslob option (because feeding the whale sharks is bad for them for many reasons, read here why!) we found other options are also available. Well in theory of course, because whale sharks (should) do their own thing and it would just be amazing if we could bump into one.

Whale sharks are the biggest sharks as well as the biggest fish in our oceans. But they eat plankton mostly, making them perfectly nice and friendly for humans to swim around. Their numbers are down though, making them very vulnerable for mass-tourism. Even though the whale shark is a protected species in the Philippines and rules and regulations have been put into place prohibiting people to touch the gentle giants, many tourists believe the perfect selfie is more important…

The whale sharks cruise through the Philippines on their way to their breeding grounds and there are two well-known areas to go whale shark watching: Donsol and South-Leyte. 90% of the whale sharks go via Donsol and the other 10% via South Leyte. Estimates are that there are about 1,000 whale sharks migrating during the year so that means your chances are higher when you go to Donsol.

We chose to go to South Leyte, mainly because it is right next to Bohol and therefore it was a lot easier to get to. Also we ‘heard’ that there were many whale sharks around and when we got to our resort, they confirmed all these sightings.

Unfortunately for us though, the bad weather that we had been able to avoid for a while, hit us. Meaning that we couldn’t go out on the boat. To us the waves don’t mean much, but the local boats just don’t run well on waves (normally there are none) and – more importantly – it is much harder to find a whale shark when there are waves. Since they are fish, they don’t need to get to the surface to breath, so it’s easier to spot them when the sea is calm.

It doesn’t really look like bad weather, but FYI this is not a good sea for whale shark spotting.

We waited patiently for several days; me blogging, writing, chilling and relaxing. After one month + of brutal karaoke and noise, we had found a quiet place. The only sound is the sound of the waves on the beach. In the meantime hubby kept checking the weather websites and trying to find one that said the weather was improving (which did not make the weather change at all…).

Our hotel/resort with the best kitchin in the Philippines. They even make Filipino food taste good!

Finally, the weather forecast and the actual weather came together and WE.WERE.ON!

There were five of us; one of whom a Korean from New Zealand who only had one day and whose childhood dream had been to see the whale sharks in the wild. Since he seemed to have brought the good weather, we all felt very confident he was our good luck charm and we would be spotting all 100 whale sharks in one go.

From where we were, we had to cross the Sogod Bay to get to the whale shark ‘infested’ waters. That’s about a 1.5 hour trip. On the boat we got a briefing on how to (not) behave if and when we would spot a whale shark. No touching, no swimming in front of the shark, not in the tail area and especially no touching and no feeding.

When we got to the other side of the bay, the spotting began. We cruised circular up the coast and talked to local fishermen to find the exact spot. We were all staring intensely to the surface of the water, looking for a break of the water, a fin, a tail, a head. Our excitement was very intense and it must have rubbed off in the water; after about an hour or two we had to admit defeat, no whale sharks before lunch.

We were slightly disappointed of course, but no harm done, we still had the whole afternoon to check the waters again. After a packed lunch, the guides pointed us to an amazing reef and that snorkel trip got us all back in a good and hopeful mood!

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So after an hour of lunch/snorkeling we were back in the area where the whale shark supposedly was. Back to gazing out over the water and trying to see an anomaly. Back to looking deep down under the boat, to see if they were maybe swimming below the boat. Back to looking in front, to the left, right and back of the boat, to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

And then the guide got all exited. He’d seen something and got the captain to steer the boat that way. We were all ready to get our snorkel gear back on, putting the baby shampoo in the snorkel masks for optimal vision, getting the fins tight on our feet to make sure we wouldn’t lose one while jumping in. When we got closer to the sited whale shark, it turned out to have been a turtle.

Never before did I see so many disappointed faces because we spotted a turtle. Spotting one is rare and most of the time people love seeing them. It is something special and snorkelers and divers gather around the poor animals and usually crowd them into leaving.

Not today. Our boat was incredibly disappointed and an atmosphere of despair came over us. Will we see the whale shark? Where could it be? Is there another way to spot it, maybe a better way? But to no avail, we just had to go back to our positions and look out for the whale shark.

How can you not get exited when seeing a turtle…

I would love to tell you that we saw the whale sharks and that it was the most amazing experience of my life. But unfortunately, we never saw one, let alone swam with one. At 3.30 pm the guide made an executive decision and called it quits. Apart from our lucky charm, the Korean New-Zealander, we were somewhat relieved that this was it. Staring at the water for hours on end is fairly tiring and demotivating if you can’t find what you are looking for.

So we’ll have to keep this one on our bucket-list. We hear they can also be spotted in Mexico…

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