DONSOL, Sorsogon: The local government here on Sunday said preparations for its Butanding (whale shark) Festival are in full swing.
“From April, the usual start of the peak of the butanding season, we have moved the festival to May so that it coincides with our traditional celebration for the town fiesta in honor of our patron, St. Joseph the Worker, that starts on the 18th of the month,” Mayor Josephine Alcantara-Cruz said.
Over years following its discovery as seasonal sanctuary of whale sharks, Donsol captured international attention with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines spearheading a holistic conservation program which ranged from satellite butanding tagging and photo-identification, to the effective management of tourism impacts.
Since then, the national government has poured in funds to improve the 29-kilometer main road linking the area to the Maharlika Highway and road networks within and outside the municipality to make them more accessible to land trips.
The Donsol-Jovellar-Guinobatan road leads tourists to areas covered by the third district of Albay where Mt. Mayon’s southwestern quadrant could be closely viewed as well as Ligao City, the site of the alluring Kawa-Kawa Hill and Nature Park.
Whale sharks are species of giant sea mammals scientifically called Rhincodon typus.
They are slow-moving filter-feeding sharks and the largest extant fish species, reaching as big as 13 meters in body length and weighing more than 21 metric tons, and are migratory in nature but some of them have adopted the waters here as residence.
Friendly to human beings, these creatures swim from surface to mid-water and with their size, they are hard to miss.
Usually, Cruz said, this resident group composed of around eight fully matured butandings would stay behind after the feeding season and continue entertaining tourists and visitors until September then disappear from public view and stay not farther than the nearby Manta Bowl to wait for their next season.
The Manta Bowl is a deep portion of Ticao Pass that is sanctuary of manta rays, an equally-protected marine wildlife species.
Starting 2012 down to 2013 and until the early months of 2014, however, no whale shark arrived, idling the tourism industry of the municipality that in the past years would be visited by an average of 25,000 tourists yearly.
During these periods of absence, the butandings stayed away from the high temperature of the Donsol waters and lack of food due to intense heat of summer, Cruz explained.
“Now that they are back, we are inviting all butanding and fun-lovers to come and join the biggest festival ever for the biggest sea mammal in the world and let your imagination run big and wild with the launch of extra-large activities for this year’s extraordinary festival that guarantees super-sized fun, adventure and memories,” she said.
It will feature a bigger regatta, fluvial parade with boats carrying colorful banners and giant images of the butanding along the Donsol River, a street parade of life-size images of the butandings on floats accompanied by barangay delegations, brass bands, drum and bugle corps, and festival street-dancing contingent winners from other Bicol provinces.