An Encounter with Whale Sharks aka Butanding


by Kim Jay Viñas

Whale Sharks, locally called Butanding, started becoming a popular draw for tourists somewhere around the start of 2012. I haven’t watched Whale Sharks before so it made me curious about what they look like. However, thinking that ‘there are always there’ made me lose any sense of urgency to check them out. I grew up only a short drive away from the watching area after all - a place called Brgy. Tan-awan in Oslob. I guess it’s only fitting that the literal translation of ‘Tan-awan’ in English is a place to look.


I finally had the urge to go when a friend decided to visit our town for a little rest and recreation.


When we got there, I was surprised that the viewing area wasn’t too far from the shore. While riding the boat, there really isn’t much to see. The Whale Sharks barely get out the surface while they swim. However, you start to feel a bit of goosebump thinking about these beasts swimming below you.


Finally, I mustered the courage to go for the dive. When going into the water, you have to go slowly so as not to rattle the Whale Sharks. After getting underwater, there I saw them. The Whale Sharks in all their glory. They feed on krill which are pretty small in relation to their own body weight. I thought that they must have had to eat/hunt for food all day to even come close to feeling full. Add to that the fact that they have to swim while feeding which is quite an energy expenditure. They don’t get to sit around like us humans after we’ve had our fill. I guess they probably get to rest after getting back to their caves. I haven’t done thorough research about their lives but this was the thought running through my head at the time.


They seem very calm and look like they’ve somehow been already accustomed to having humans swimming around. There are questions on whether or not it’s right to feed the Whale Sharks artificially. I’m not one to get into political matters. However, what I see is a beneficial relationship between the people and the Whale Sharks. The former feeds the latter and the favor is returned via financial reward. This rise in tourism activity has been a boon to the Oslobanons. It has given rise to a growing industry of hotels, restaurants, and resorts. I believe any form of human intervention does have an effect on nature and the ecosystem. However, it is fine as long as it’s being done in moderation. The Whale Sharks are only fed in the morning. Before noontime and for the rest of the day, they are left to fend for themselves. Nature has an inner resiliency that is kept as long as it isn’t abused. For now, I see a symbiotic relationship between man and beast. Each party benefits from the other.


Seeing those Butandings was truly a unique experience. Everyone should try it at least once in their life.




Kim Jay Viñas
Kim Jay Viñas

Author

Kim has traveled extensively around the Philippines and Asia. He currently manages Tour Sidekicks. You can find him on Instagram @kimdlacreme.



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