The congregation of whale sharks that appear in the Donsol each year is possibly the largest grouping in the world. In peak season, Donsol is one of the best places they can be seen.
As the whale sharks in Donsol are protected, only snorkelling is allowed in Donsol Bay, but it is possible to dive with them in nearby areas. However, the best and most reliable interactions are in Donsol Bay, where the whale sharks come right up to the surface.
During your whale shark interactions, you will go out on a small boat with a guide and a spotter. The local fishermen have been retrained and will find you whale sharks – no problem! As soon as they see a whale shark, you ready yourself with mask, snorkel and fins, while the boat positions itself so you have time to jump in the water before the shark reaches you. And then you swim alongside these gentle giants….
Diving is also available at other places nearby including Manta Bowl, where you will have a good chance of seeing whale sharks on scuba along with other pelagics – and also a very good chance of seeing another gentle giant – the oceanic manta.
Whale sharks are wild animals so are never guaranteed, but Donsol is as guaranteed as you are going to get outside of feeding areas.
In Donsol during peak season, it is very, very rare not to see whale sharks. Most people will see at least 5. Your intrepid writer saw 15 when she was there one March and she barely even tried! On a good day you can see 20 and some people have even seen as many as 45 whale sharks in one day. This is of course very rare and most people are exhausted way before they hit that many! But it is possible!
Donsol Whale Shark Watching Packages
One of the best things about Donsol whale shark tours is the price. Unlike destinations such as Ningaloo Reef in Australia where you can also swim with whale sharks, there are no expensive spotter planes needed as the sharks are in a small, shallow area, close to shore and very easy for your spotter to find from the top of a boat.
To give you an idea of prices, a standard package is as follows:
- 2 night stay at one the better resorts, rooms with air-con and hot water and breakfast
- 2 days snorkeling with whale sharks
- All fees and airport transfers
The cost for this is around US$250! (Based on minimum 2 people and current at time of writing). This all inclusive package is less than the price of a morning’s whale shark experience on Ningaloo Reef. There are some more standard packages here or contact us to arrange a bespoke package.
About whale sharks
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean. In Donsol, typical whale shark size is 4-12 meters. The largest whale shark on record anywhere in the world was 12.65 meters long, but reported sightings are up to 18 meters. They weigh up to 40 tons. Donsol is home to <em>schools</em> of these amazing creatures and they can be seen by divers and non-divers, swimmers and non swimmers, the old and the young alike.
They migrate to Donsol in vast numbers to take advantage of the dense food concentration of plankton and krill which is their main diet. Their mouths are up to 2 meters across containing over 300 rows filled with thousands of tiny teeth. But don’t worry – whale sharks are only after the small stuff and filter feed plankton all day. The many rows of teeth play no role in feeding; in fact, they are reduced in size in the whale shark. Instead, the shark sucks in a mouthful of water, closes its mouth and expels the water through its gills.
With their distinctive patterned skins, each whale shark is unique and a global database has been made with over 2000 individual whale sharks identified.
Diving in Donsol
And if snorkelling if not enough for you – because really, what can beat diving alongside a whale shark?! – it’s very possible to see them diving. Manta Bowl, a nearby dive site often has whale sharks passing through its cleaning stations, as well as other pelagic visitors including manta rays (of course!) and occasional hammerheads.
Manta Bowl is closer to Ticao Island which has a great resort run by our partners in Donsol, and there is other excellent diving with pelagics, reefs and a huge variety of marine life. Depending on your schedule we would recommend at least one snorkel in Donsol (withe maybe an overnight) and some diving based from Ticao.
When to come to Donsol
Although there are variations from year to year, generally whale shark season is from mid-November to mid-May Best sightings are from February to April which is also the busiest time, so be sure to well in advance. Whale sharks can sometimes be seen as early as November and as late as June.
Other activities in Donsol
There is a lot more to do in the Bicol area, including firefly watching, river kayaking, trekking or ATV riding on Mount Mayon (an active volcano!) and much more.
How to get there
Donsol is located in Luzon in the north of the Philippines. You will need to fly to Legaspi which is a short flight from Manila or Cebu via Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines. This makes it easy for you to combine with a Malapascua thresher shark trip.