By Rhaydz B. Barcia
LEGAZPI CITY, 11Feb2014 (PNA) – For the third time, whale sharks, known locally as “butanding,” have reappeared in the waters off this city and frolic even in the presence of curious residents.
The presence of the gentle giants and friendly sea creatures, six of them, playing very near the seashore of Legazpi City has attracted tourists at the area since Monday, especially at the ritzy Embarcadero de Legazpi, a world-class waterfront commercial complex and recreation center here, and the Legazpi City Boulevard.
This, despite the presence of large cargo vessels docked at the Legazpi international port.
The butanding usually appears in Donsol waters in Sorsogon, making it a regular favorite tourist destination.
Though this is not the first time — in fact, it is the third time — the friendly whale shark visited Albay Gulf, its sudden appearance surprising residents.
City Mayor Noel Rosal said the whale sharks appeared within the breakwater on Monday, between 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
“This is not the first time that the butanding visited our waters because since 2010, butanding sightings have been reported by the local residents to our office. The presence of butanding really proves that Albay Gulf is still clean and has abundant plankton,” Rosal said.
In 2010, two whale sharks as big as a pick-up vehicle emerged here and stayed for several weeks within the waters off this city.
Rosal said residents and visiting tourists should enjoy the presence of the butanding as these creatures are migratory.
The whale shark is an edentate fish which eats only plankton and small fish like “dilis” but grows to an enormous length of up to 50 feet and can weigh up to 40 tons.
The gentle giants, however, seldom come to this area in a pod of 40 or more at one time, the way they do at Donsol.
Donsol, with its wide and deep river channel waters flowing down the bay, has been known as the butanding sanctuary for years.
In February until May, thousands of domestic and foreign tourists spend their holidays in Donsol, watching and playing with the friendly fish that lays eggs in fresh water, particularly at the mouth of a river.
It is during February that local officials of Donsol, dubbed as the world’s Whale Shark Capital, declare the opening of the whale shark-watching season and give official sanction to whale shark interaction activities.
Tourists arrive in this town daily in droves to watch and play with the gentle giants.
The local tourism council has ordered the preservation of the area, despite the watching and interaction activities.
It trained butanding interaction officers (BIOs) who caution watchers on boats or in the waters on disturbing the butanding either by shouting, clapping or stomping their feet.
Each interaction boat is only allowed to interact with one butanding.
The BIO signals the swimmer to ease slowly into the water to prevent splashing.
He is only allowed to wear a snorkel, as a scuba gear is not encouraged because the bubbling noise underwater may disturb the fish.
Video and still cameras must have no flash bulbs and other artificial lighting.
When the whale shark gets accustomed to the human company, it may even allow the swimmers to glide along, holding on to its fins, but not to ride on its back.
The watching season ends sometime in May or early June when the whale sharks start leaving the area.
The friendliness of the butanding was discovered by a group of divers led by David Duran, son of former Sorsogon City Mayor Fernando Duran, sometime in February 1997. (PNA)