Trip Start Feb 18, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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In the water with the Whale Sharks!!!!

Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Thursday, March 25, 2010

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Snorkeling with whale sharks today!!!!!  The local name for them is "Butanding" (boo-tan-ding) which either means gentle giant, blind big fish, or destroyer.

We wake up at 6:15am because we have to be at our boat by 7.  Eat a hardy breakfast of eggs and white toast, then walk down the beach to meet our group by the boat.  Soon we are boarding the "LEXUS" with Joseph, our B.I.O. (Butanding Interaction Officer).  The crew on the boat consists of the captain, the spotter (guy who does all the work, standing up above and looking for long shadows and fins in the water, who also steers the boat with a long bamboo pole attatched to the rudder) and 3 other guys who don't seem to do too much.

We head out away from shore, and after about 15 minutes, Joseph yells "OK!"  We all look at each other like, woah, what, now?! OK!  It's a mad scramble on the boat what with 6 people trying to get their fins, masks, and snorkels on while the boat begins to slow down.  We sit on the edge of the boat and wait for the boat to drop us near the whale shark.  Joseph soon says "GO" and we all jump in the water on top of each other.  We are so excited that Jon forgets to pull his mask over his eyes, and my snorkel is not in my mouth so I swallow lots of water (and crill).  The boat pulls away quickly and Joseph is pointing and yelling "Look down! Look down!!" and when we do, I see the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life.

Right out of the blue (literally) appears an enormous open mouth headed right towards me.  I gasp and scream into my snorkel as it swims right by, only a few feet away.  Swimming by it just looks like a wall of dots that goes on forever.  I can't believe the actual size of this thing, it is truly massive!  My heart is beating out of my chest and I completely forget to breathe.  But we start swimming with it, getting a feeling for it's size and grace, for a few minutes until it goes too deep to see.  We all pop our heads up at the surface and everyone is glowing and laughing and talking and wows all around.  Life is really good right now.

The boat comes around to pick us up and we climb back on.  On the boat we exchange our first impressions and feelings, you can't shut us up, and then before we know it, "OK!", it's time to go in again, the spotter has found us another whale shark, and it's scramble time again!  Throughout the 3 hours on the boat we see 9 different whale sharks!!  But it's really the thrid one that is the best...

After swimming quickly along with the second one, Ziv comments "Ok that was great, but now I want a lazy one!"

Well he got what he asked for because the third one we are with is truly LAZY. He stays right up on the surface with us, barely moving along (for a whale shark), with his nose poking out of the water and his mouth wide open gulping down microscopic crill.  It stays like this for about 10 or 15 minutes although it feels like forever!!  It's mouth could probably fit me inside of it (good thing it only eats crill) and it's body must be 9 meters long (30 feet) but who can really tell?! When you're near the head you can barely see the shadow of the tail at all.  The tail seems as tall as a house as it gently swings back and forth propelling it along.  We can get a great look at the dots on the skin, which is really more like a intricate pattern once you get close.  Apparently each whale shark as a unique pattern that is like it's fingerprint.  (there is even a website you can upload your pictures to that experts use to identify the sharks!)

My favorite thing is to swim over the top of it's dorsal fin to really get a feel for the width of it, it's like my whole body going across, and then some!  Even the feeder fish that swim along it's belly are about a foot and a half long!

I can't believe the amount of time he (or she) is staying with us.  At one point he actually dives down a little and I think, ok he's had enough, that's it....but then up he comes again, back to the surface.  I swim over to Jon and grab his hand, he squeezes back and I know he is feeling the same thing I am, "this is the most amazing moment of my life".  Ziv is taking lots of pictures and even captures a good one of us in front of the wall of dots!  (He takes a great video too where you can get a real feel for the size and the speed and the general experience, so check that out!)  We are all holding our breath and diving down to get closer when it's down below but this is hard because we are so out of breath from swimming and being totally excited!

We head back in after 3 hours of being out, and we decide to go out again tomorrow.  As Jon put it, "If it's a once in a lifetime experience, I want to do it twice!"

We love BUTANDING!!!!
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Betty Verghese on

Wow that is amazing...from sea snakes; to fireflies..to whale sharks...pretty intense guys!! Beautiful photos

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