The Whale Sharks of Southern Leyte

Posted: February 10, 2018 in Photography, Travels
Tags: , , ,

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There are similar legends across cultures about the origins of whale sharks. It is said that there was a time when the gods came down to visit Earth, and somehow they saw the giant fishes swimming gracefully in the seas. The gods were amazed at these majestic creatures they decided to throw silver coins to the sea. The coins bonded with the skins of the giant fishes forming their unique white patterns in their bodies, perhaps as a reminder of the god’s goodwill to the sea and the giants we call today as whale sharks.

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Fellow blogger and Sawum freediver, Alieth, swims with whale sharks in Pintuyan. (c) @badjaw_

Fast forward to present time right here in the tropical islands of the Philippines, we are very fortunate to have whale sharks in our seas. There are known places where whale sharks often hangout: in Donsol in Sorsogon and the infamous Oslob in Cebu province (we will talk about that later). But there’s a new location that you have to put in your bucket-list if you want to see the gentle giants in your lifetime: Pintuyan town in Southern Leyte. Pintuyan is located in Panaon Island of the province at the edge of the diving paradise of Sogod Bay. It is located a town away from the diving world’s famous Napantao Reef!

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A view from above. Toursist has to ride banca to reach and swim with whaleshark. (c) Rocky Fabilane

But before we go to Pintuyan it is important to me, as an advocate in marine conservation, to compare the whale shark watching activities in Oslob to the one in Southern Leyte. As you probably have heard (or seen pesonally), the whale sharks in Oslob are baited and fed with krills (‘uyap’ in the Bisaya) from the boats by fishermen in order to attract the creatures to their boats..filled with excited tourists. This kind of practices have resulted in documented injuries to both whale sharks and tourists. Fishermen fend off the sharks from over boarding their boat by hitting with poles. Tourists often accidentally kick or make physical contact with the creatures. But the more serious effects of the “Oslob thing” is that they are practically taming these wild creatures and taking away their natural fear to humans by making them dependent on their ‘uyap’. Remember these are migratory animals, and only further studies will prove that we are indeed screwing up their growth and migratory patterns. See photos below:

 

 

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Fortunately, there is a better alternative to Oslob right in my province of Southern Leyte. I grow up in Sogod Bay and have heard tales about different kind of sharks, especially whale sharks, roaming around the Bay.  I made my first trip to Pintuyan last January and as of this writing I’ve been there four times! I just fell in love with the idea of having a safe haven for whale sharks in my Bay and that the community respects them dearly on how they conduct the interactions in the area.

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Me recording a whaleshark (not seen in the photo) while another lurks right below me. (c) @badjaw_

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They love playing in the deep, so Louie and I have to breathe up to dive the giants below 🙂 @badjaw_

In Pintuyan, the whale interaction is operated by the KASAKA, an association of fishermen in Son-Ok 2, Pintuyan. There’s strict guidelines in place to safeguard the safety of both tourists and the animals. Feeding the sharks are absolutely forbidden. Since whale sharks don’t stay at one, tourist have to actually hire boats, guides and trained spotters to look for them in some areas in the Bay.

Whale shark watching in Southern Leyte is not just an activity it’s a full blown tour.

We are given a maximum three hours to search and interact with the whale sharks. It’s a long time compared to the 30 minutes (OR LESS) in Oslob. It’s basically whale shark watching with a glorious island hopping journey! There’s no guarantee that whale sharks will appear (it happened on my 2nd trip), so to finally find one is simply euphoric! We are not allowed to touch them or stay closer than 5 meters from the whale sharks. Since they are not fed, they don’t usually surface so having  freediving and swimming skills are really good advantage. For non-swimmers it is important to wear live vest. 🙂

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From David Alfaro

Read: David Alfaro’s travel blog on our Southern Leyte adventure

Also please note of the prices of the Whale shark tour, since it is not a fixed price per head and could be a bit expensive for local tourist (for comparison in Oslob is P550 each for 30 minutes). In Pintuyan this is how they compute the rates if you’re a group of 6 (six):

MPA/Environmental Fee – 6pax x P250 each = P1,500.00
Spotters – 4 spotters x P300 each = P1,200.00
Guides – 2 guides x P350 each = P700.00
Pump boats – 2 x P800 each  – P1,600.00
Grand Total = P5,000.00 (or P834.00 per person) that’s 3hours already of awesome adventure.

Proceeds from the Whale shark tours are going directly to the KASAKA organization and its members which are duly managed by the local LGU.  You can also purchase stuffed whale sharks (below) for your bags (and loved ones)  made by the fishermen’s wives in their association, See Breeze Conservation Sew Mates. For reservations and inquiries, contact Mr. Virgilio Flores of KASAKA through through mobile at 09359296626.

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I can also tour groups of people coming from Cebu on weekends (dont worry I’d pay for my own expenses there). Reach me on facebook at Lester Glenn Tabada, mobile 0977 4990 282 or email me at lester_tabada@yahoo.com

And for the encore here’s Louie’s epic travel video of our great Southern Leyte Adventure!

 

How to Get to Pintuyan:

From Cebu
Ride the Cebu – Hilongos ferry of Roble Shipping or Gabisan Shipping at Pier 3 in Cebu
Available travel time are: 12 Noon, 2:30 PM and 9:00 PM
Travel time is 4-6 hours, and cost P265-450 ($5-9)depending on accomodation

Ride the boat service boat or van from Hilongos – Pintuyan.
Make sure to drop by at Brgy. Son-ok II in Pintuyan.  (Or you may check in first at Pintuyan lodges.)
Bus fare: P150-200 ($3-4).

From Manila
Ride a plane from Manila to Tacloban, available daily airlines are Cebu Pacific and Philipine Airlines. Book in advance for cheaper plane tickets
Ride a bus or van from Tacloban to Sogod.  Bus fares is at P150-200 ($3-4)
Ride another bus or Van from Sogod to Pintuyan. Fare is P150-180 ($3-4)

Where to Stay

La Guerta Lodge I
(in front of Pintuyan Municipal Hall)
Barangay Poblacion Ubos, Pintuyan, Southern Leyte
Contact Number: 09261426986 look for Mrs. Lynrie B. Guias
Rate: P600/per room a night

La Guerta Lodge II
(in front of  Pintuyan District Hospital)
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.
Contact Number: 09261426986 look for Mrs. Lynrie B. Guias
Rate: P600/per room a night

D&D’s Lodge
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.
Contact Number: 09069372486 look for  Mrs. Emmylou Banol

6 A’s Beach Resort
Contact number: 09173211024
Owner: Amy Tandayag

Pintuyan Dive Resort
Location: Barangay Caubang, P. S. L.
Contact Number: 09176597032

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