Keith Jones, Adventures with Wild Animals
Close Animal Encounters
Rub noses with a gray whale,  Pet a Giant Panda BearSnorkel with a shark, Walk a Tiger on a leash!


Philippine Islands Snorkeling with whale sharks -Trip Logs

Trip Log, May 31:
After 3 hours of almost non-stop snorkeling I was pleasantly exhausted and ready to head back to the dock. 15 whale sharks, a boatload of pretty Filipana dancers and a great volcano in the background combined to make this another magical day snorkeling with whale sharks at Donsol, in the Philippine Islands

I snorkeled with whale sharks at all of the world's great whale shark locations and some that are not so great.  I've been leading swimmers on snorkel trips to swim with whale sharks for 6 years.

Vijay Phadke, April 22:  This letter by Vijay describes in detail the experience his family had on their whale shark adventure.

This small town becomes a busy place as tourists from all over the world arrive to watch these huge fish. Local fisherman assist as whale spotters. The fishermen with experience are known as “Butanding Interaction Officers” or BIO.

We were team of seven, four from my family and three from my friend’s family.   That night, all of us went to bed in excited state, not exactly knowing what we will be experiencing next day.


Donsol, Phillipine Islands is the best location I have been to.  Not just because of the heavy concentration of whale sharks.  There are other considerations that lead me to say this.

1.  Friendly & smiling people, unspoiled by the greed for tourist dollars or pounds so obvious on Holbox Island these days.
2.  Uncrowded boats, something you will only wish for if you go to Holbox Island or Australia.
3.  A relatively uncrowded area, still in the early stages of development for tourism.
4. A safe and fun place to visit!

We started our tour in a small motor boat called “Bunka”. It was a 30 footer with balancing bamboo on both sides as per local style. Alan asked us to be ready with out swimming gear, the snorkel and fins etc. Jun climbed a bamboo cross to get a cleaner view of the surroundings. He spotted the first Whale Shark just in 10 minutes, hardly a kilometer away from the shore. There was a sudden excitement in the crew and Jun started guiding the boatman, shouting in local dialect. Alan told us that the boatman will position the boat correctly, about 25 meters from the fish and then upon his signal “ GO”, we have to jump in the water with him and start swimming towards the fish as fast as we can! My heart was thumping and my fingers went numb

5.  Life jackets are not required to be worn in the water as they are at Holbox Island. This means you can swim faster and stay with the sharks longer.
The Philippine's have some of the best scuba diving in the world, cheap!  Forget Cancun prices when you come here.

Only myself and Ajoy, Peter’s son, prepared to go for the first encounter. As we approached the fish, we saw a huge dark patch in the water. My wife, Smita was holding the Video Camera but all that she could capture was a giant black patch. We closed in and then I heard Alan shout, go .. go…. go. This was the moment of truth! Also this was my first time to swim in deep see without any life jacket as it impedes the swimming speed. It was Ajoy who jumped first. I jumped after him and started swimming in the direction indicated by Alan. Alan was swimming very fast and I also applied all of my force to approach the mammoth fish. With my mask, and thanks to the power lens that it had, I already had a corrected vision even inside the waters, I saw the huge mouth from the side. That was a magnificent site. I still vividly remember the swift motion and elegant stokes of the tail. The gills were huge and so was the dorsal fin. We were hardly 10 feet away from it and were swimming parallel to its body. The encounter lasted for about 30 seconds and then it changed the trajectory and glided past us in the deeper waters. The tail was huge with a small cut at the tip. I was stunned by the size and felt that it must have been at least 40 feet long. Alan remarked casually, “That one was small, just 22 feet!"

We swam back to the boat but meanwhile Jun spotted another one. Alan asked us to hold on to the balancing bamboo on the side and the boat moved, dragging us along. Soon we approached another one. This was almost of the same size but I could see only the middle part and the tail. Then we climbed back again.

Now everybody was charged up. Another one was spotted in a short while. Peter joined us and we three were sitting on the side of the boat, waiting for Alan’s signal. In the excitement, I jumped prematurely. Wait! Wait! Alan shouted. I was scared and just hung on the bamboo praying that this doesn’t turn out to be a disaster. Soon everybody jumped in the water and we started swimming rapidly as guided by Alan. There it was. I was right in front of it. It was swimming towards me. This time I saw the gaping mouth. It was open and I could feel the chill going up my spine! Trust me, it is very difficult to stay calm when such a giant beast is swimming towards you. It was just 6 to 8 feet below me. We changed direction and started following it. This was about 25 feet long. Our companion soon got tired of us and speeded up in the deep waters.

I urged Smita to join us and not lose this rare opportunity. Soon Smita joined us in the next encounter followed by my 11 year daughter Shruti and Peter’s wife Sylvia. Even my 6-year-old, younger daughter, Shivani gathered her courage and jumped in. With Jun’s help, she approached the Butanding and saw the middle part of the huge body. That scared the hell out of her and she froze at the same spot, urging Jun to take her back. I guess this much encounter was already a great achievement for her age.

In about four hours, we were able to see about 20 Whale Sharks but eight of them were moving away. The other 12 spotted were approached by us, with Ajoy participating in all encounter and myself in 11 out of these 12. The largest one I saw was about 35 feet long. I viewed it from the front at the beginning. The mouth was at least 5 feet wide, continuously moving to gulp tons of water, with thousands of small teeth working as filters to find plankton and small fish as food. Then I moved on the side and started swimming with it. This time Jun was with me. This encounter lasted for about a minute.

Shruti and Ajoy were the luckiest one, when they had the longest encounter with one of the Butandings, lasting more than a minute.

It was already close to noon and everybody was tired. Every part of my body was aching. Although I swim very regularly, this was not swimming. It was like short bursts of sprints. As the fish is in wild, it won’t wait for you. You have to speed up and swim very fast till you reach it. That consumed all of our energy. In addition, climbing back on the boat is also a hard work with no hard support for the ladder. That day, I really wished I were at least 10 years younger.

Although everybody was tired, we still wanted more. The sun was up and it was difficult to spot more Whales on the shining water surface. Still we spent another hour to have two more encounters. By 1:30 PM, we had no more energy to even look around and returned back to our resort.

The experience was unforgettable. For a couple of days, every time I closed my eyes, I dreamed about Buntandings. I remember the majestic swift movements like a ballet artist.


Snorkel with Whale Sharks at Donsol, Philippine Islands
copyright 2007, Keith Jones
No images may be used without written permission of copyright holder
California registered seller of travel #2055660-50
We do more whale shark trips each year, to more locations than anyone else in the world! or