I'd like to believe that my monthly donations to WWF help in the latter aspect, but I didn't really get to do anything hands-on or really feel like I mattered in that regard until earlier this year when I was invited to the announcement of WWF's global partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruises to support ocean conservation in Donsol, Sorsogon.
I had no idea where Donsol or Sorsogon was when I got on the plane, to be honest, and I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil at the time; but when we landed and I saw the beautiful Mayon Volcano, my entire being breathed and I felt at peace.
Meeting new people, making new friends and discovering sili dirty ice cream (with different levels of spiciness!) aside, I learned more about whalesharks in Donsol. Up until that day, they were nothing but an animal in a museum and an attraction in Oslob that I had thought about experiencing one day.
Little did I know that whalesharks weren't treated well in Oslob. In Donsol, we went 'whaleshark hunting' with hopes of getting a glimpse of a beautiful butanding. However, before we even went on our excursion, we were given a set of rules to follow: no feeding, no touching, and no riding - all three things of which I had seen in pictures and heard from stories of people who had swam with whalesharks in Oslob.
Photo from lonelyplanet.com
In fact, from the stories I had heard, the 'tour guides' in Oslob sprinkle food into the ocean to attract the whalesharks, so that the tourists who paid for the tour can swim with them. This is a huge no-no! Not only are whalesharks no longer finding food naturally this way, but they also no longer migrate when they should because they know that people in Oslob will feed them. Why leave when food is so easily offered up to them? Need I mention that the 'food' that people feed them in Oslob doesn't have the necessary nutritional value that natural food like plankton can provide the whalesharks?
Also, from what I've heard, things can get super crowded at Oslob with tourist boats popping up left and right to get to see the whalesharks, sometimes even hitting the whalesharks unintentionally because of the proximity. In Donsol, there are only about five or six going out at a time with hopes of getting a glimpse of these majestic beings - but none of them ever throwing out food to entice them over.
Yes, it's true that it's much harder to 'swim with whalesharks' if you search for them the natural way. In Donsol, we actually looked for those whalesharks for hours. And then, when we finally jumped into the water after spotting one, we had maybe 10 to 15 seconds of swimming with them - nothing more. Some of the boats weren't even able to spot a whaleshark while we were there, causing them to go back the next day to try again.
This may not be as fun or as cool as the amount of minutes you get to spend with them in Oslob, but at least you aren't tricking them to come to you by feeding them. Instead, you get to experience them in their natural habitat in a completely safe way. Besides, trust me: the adrenaline that comes with seeing a whaleshark from afar and knowing you might have a chance to swim with them is intensely amazing and well worth the hours spent trying to spot one to begin with.
Of course, the best part is that your conscience will be completely clear afterwards. :) Have you tried swimming with whalesharks in Donsol yet?