Tourism exec says more 'butanding' sightings in Donsol in 2017

The whale sharks or "butanding", known to show up between December to May off the waters of Donsol in Sorsogon, are slowly coming back.

“There are now three to eight sightings reported daily,” said Maria O. Ravanilla, Department of Tourism (DOT)-Bicol director.

Over the past several years officials have been noting a lesser number of sightings of the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), popularly known as "butanding" in Donsol.

Ravanilla said it was less than five sightings during the past years with around one to two in 2014 and less than five in 2015 and 2016.

The dwindling number of sightings were first noted around 2012 and 2013.

In 2010, reports had said that as many as 15 to 18 "butandings" could be spotted at the water’s surface by marine tourist guides, who were officially tagged by the local government as butanding interaction officers.

Ravanilla said the warming sea water temperature spawned by global warming might have kept the whale sharks from surfacing.

She said divers had noted that the gentle giants of the sea have been going deeper and nearer the mantay ray bowl in Takdungan, which is in the boundary between Ticao Island and Donsol.

“2017 is a little bit better because it means the butandings are now able to adapt to climate change,” she added.

Ravanilla said Friday also marked the culminating activities for the week-long "Butanding Festival" that started last May 12.

She said the opening day of the festival showcased replicas of the "butanding" with 12 coastal barangays parading their life-sized versions from the shores of their villages to the town proper of Donsol.

It was in 1998 when the gentle giant sea creatures started to boost tourism in Donsol and brought the town to international attention. The "butanding" sightings fueled the local economy and provided employment and livelihood to the townsfolk.

Because of the opportunity presented by the big number of sightings of the whale sharks in Donsol, the provincial government of Sorsogon had forged a tripartite agreement among the municipal government of Donsol, DOT and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1999.

DOT led tourism promotion and marketing and training of the marine eco-tour guides, WWF took care of research and monitoring while Donsol municipal government managed tourism products and day-to-day operation.

Reports said that between 2013 and 2016, Albay and Sorsogon reported an increase of 200,000 in annual visitor arrivals while businesses made new investments in tourism worth PHP 65 million.

Ravanilla said there was “much to hope for” with the increased sightings of the "butandings" in 2017. (Gina V. Rodriguez/PNA)