Swimming with Butandings – the gentle giants
Much has been written about the success story of Donsol, Sorsogon and its transformation from being a sleepy, rustic, 5th Class municipality to its current 1st Class stature since the discovery of hundreds of whale sharks or butanding congregating in its murky but food-rich bay.
Donsol now stands proudly as the site with the largest number of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere in the world. It has become a world-class tourist destination and is now known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World”. Their presence has become a major income generator, as thousands arrive each season to swim and witness the friendly behavior of these giant fish.
Donsol’s local residents have long known about the presence of the butandings in their area for over 100 years. The locals believed, however, that the butanding sharks were dangerous. This all changed in 1998 when a group of divers came in contact with them where their interaction with the gentle giants was documented and publicized by the media and got the attention of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment.
The Whale Shark (scientific name: Rhincodon Typus) is considered the biggest fish in the world and is included in the list of endangered species, with only about 1,000 identified worldwide. (For those not in the know, the huge and enormous blue whale is a mammal, not a fish.) Butandings seen in Donsol measure from 3 meters to as long as 10 meters (15 ft. – 40 ft.) in length and weigh up to 40 tons. The butanding has leathery grayish brown skin with silvery polka dots all over its huge body. They feed only on plankton and krill and are harmless and gentle, allowing humans to swim alongside with them.