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Here’s Where “Beached” Swam With Whale Sharks—The Ethical Way

The Beached crew with Marc Nelson and Rachel Peters went to Donsol to swim with a butanding

Swimming with whale sharks (butanding) has been a controversial activity, especially after Oslob, Cebu became a famous whale shark-diving location for many tourists. But what if there’s a place where you can witness the beauty of these water giants, without putting them and their ecosystem in danger?


The Beached crew, of course, had to find out.


What’s wrong with swimming with whale sharks

When whale shark-watching and diving became popular in Oslob, hundreds of boats lined up along the shore, ready to bring curious tourists to see the sharks. While there is no actual harming of whale sharks involved, a research made by Physalus, an Italian NGO, found that the shortcut that the boaters made to lure whale sharks closer to the tourists will create a significant negative impact in their ecosystem.


Butanding are wild animals with migratory patterns, that’s why they can’t be seen all-year round in one place. But what the local fishermen in Oslob were doing was they would feed the butanding so it swam closer to the shore and to the boats, which would then give tourists the opportunity to swim with them and take a photo.


This act actually interferes with the natural pattern of the whale sharks, which could impact the ecosystem of the ocean. This is why many animal advocates have been firmly opposed on the activity.


Is there somewhere else where we can see the whale sharks the right way?

Fortunately, islands like Donsol in Sorsogon have been very ethical in the way that they promote whale shark interactions. Donsol is currently a protected area for butanding in the Philippines and they have very strict rules when it comes to human interactions. Since the whale sharks are not being lured to certain areas for the tourists to see, you will actually have to go out and look for the whale sharks if you want to see one. Sometimes you’ll be lucky, but be prepared for when you won’t be. You also have to try earlier in the morning because there is only a maximum of 30 boats that can go out to the ocean per day, so as not to cause too much disruption in the marine environment.


The Beached team with Marc Nelson and Rachel Peters visited Donsol during the Butanding Festival in May and were fortunate enough to get up-close with a butanding.

Marc Nelson swimming with the butanding

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Rachel’s first time to swim with a whale shark

It took them more than three hours in the ocean to look for one, but Rachel recalls that once they did, everything happened so fast. You have to be fast because the shark may swim away, but Marc and Rachel had the opportunity to get up-close.


“A lot of the times, when people come out and they’ve never swam with a whale shark before, they think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be so scared of the water. It’s gonna be so big, it’s still a shark.’ But if more people experience what [Rachel and I] have experienced, then you’ve just got more of a reason to try and protect them,” Marc says about the experience.

In fact, Rachel was more than a bit overwhelmed by the experience that she emerged from the waters with tears in her eyes. She shares, “They are such beautiful creatures. They’re so calm, they move so gracefully, and they let you experience their beauty. I felt grateful, I felt humbled, and I think it’s so wonderful that Donsol provides this experience. And once you experience it, your heart just feels so full and you’ll never want anyone to harm any of these animals.”
Rachel moved to tears at the sight of the whale sharks

Check out the full experience of Marc and Rachel with the Donsol whale sharks in the video below.


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