Friday 24 October 2014 20:39:51 PHT

Watching Dolphins on Bohol

IJsselstein, Monday, 28 October 2002 (updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006)

Bohol, an island in the middle of the Visayas, the large group of islands in the middle of the Philippines, is an excellent tourist destination, as it has much to offer to visitor. Long stretches of white beach to laze around, world class diving spots with some of the best coral reefs in the country, the amazing and unique Chocolate Hills, which you will have to see to believe, the shy and tiny tarsier, one of the smallest primates in the world, a rich

Spinner Dolphin
A long-snouted spinner dolphin,
Stenella longirostris.
cultural heritage, with numerous old churches and other historical monuments, and much more. In a series of articles, we will describe our experiences during our stay on Bohol.

One of the attractions of Bohol is the ability to go dolphin and whale watching on the Bohol Sea. Joselino "Jojo" Baritua runs a project in which former whale-hunters can still use their whale and dolphin spotting skills to earn a living, but now to guide tourists to the best spots for a meeting with those gentle giants and playful jokers of the sea. After being in touch with Jojo for about a year about his dolphin and whale watching operation, we finally had the opportunity to meet him and join him on a small expedition of dolphin watching. We didn't go for whale watching, since we arrived in the wrong time of year. I invited my family-in-law to join the trip, because, although they live in Bohol, they have very little opportunity to see much of the natural beauty of the island. Even though Alona beach is just 50 kilometers from home, their are little opportunities to go there, let alone stay there.

We made an appointment to be picked up at Alona beach at six o'clock in the morning: for dolphin watching you've to wake up early, as they forage early in the morning, and their hunting grounds are quite some distance from the coast.

We woke up with excitement already at five o'clock. For all of us, it would be our first dolphin-watching trip, and we were full of expectation. Of

The Banca Lores
The bancaLores.
course, we've seen an occasional dolphin while on a ferry, and I have seen several dolphins in a dolphin show in the Netherlands, but now we hoped to see them in full freedom and from close by at full sea. After an early breakfast, we walked to the beach, where we found the large banca already waiting for us. We waded a few steps from the beach to the banca, and climbed on board via a small stair connected to the bow. This banca, called Lores, was actually one of the former whale-hunter boats. It was confiscated in Talisay City, Cebu in March 1999 when it was unloading chopped fresh whale shark meat for export to Taiwan. The boat was only released one month later, after paying a P 45,000.00 penalty. Lores joined the dolphin and whale-watching program in January 2000 and since then has no longer been used for hunting whales, dolphins and whale sharks, except by tourists who carry loaded cameras instead of harpoons or guns.

After we all were settled on board, we set off. First, the crew pushed the banca away from the beach with long bamboo poles, then they started the engine, and we got some speed. It is actually quite surprising how fast these bancas can go.

We headed eastwards, straight towards the dolphin's feeding ground. Already, the late Ben Guirigay, a former whale hunter and one of the best spotters from Pamilacan, who joined the dolphin and whale-watching program in September 1998, was standing on the lookout for the telltale signs of dolphins. After about

Ben Guirigay
Ben Guirigay was considered one of
the best spotters in Pamilacan. He
joined the dolphin and whale watching
program in September 1998. He was
formerly hunting Bryde's whale, dolphins,
whale shark and manta rays.
twenty minutes - Alona Beach was already far away on the horizon - he told us he could see the splashes of jumping dolphins. But I wasn't able to see anything but waves. It took me another ten minutes before I could first see the dolphins jumping.

As we came closer to the spot, we started to see more and more dolphins. Groups of them popped up at the left and right, and more groups showed up at the horizon. The banca slowed down, and we found ourselves literally surrounded by dolphins, some jumping up and giving away a nice show of their acrobatic capabilities - if you ever wonder how they teach all those jumps and twirls in a dolphin show: they don't; dolphins are natural talents. The kind of dolphins we were watching now are aptly called "spinners" as they are capable of spinning around their own axis when they jump out of the water.

All this jumping and spinning is of course great fun, but also serves a purpose. The dolphins are actually hunting for fish. One group of dolphins chasing the fish, scaring them with all the noise they make, while others wait. We could see the fish jump out of the water in an attempt to escape their enemies, but only to land straight into the mouths of another dolphin, an interesting spectacle to observe.

Taking pictures of dolphins takes some patience and luck. Even when there are plenty, they jump out of the water unexpectedly, and disappear before you can even press the shutter. Most of they time you will end up with only their tails being captured on the film. You will need a good telescopic lens to be able to get some nice close ups.

We continued following the dolphins. By now, we saw groups of dolphins appear over a stretch of about two kilometers or more, maybe over 500 of them, a magnificent view, which we all enjoyed.

Not far from us was another banca, from one of the dive shops on Alona Beach, carrying a group of tourists also observing the spectacle - but then suddenly a third, smaller banca appeared. At first it was unclear what their business was, but then it became apparent that the people on board were actually trying to kill the dolphins. The crew on our banca looked angry and told us they were Badjau, and started to gesture angrily at the other banca. The skipper, Joseph Valeroso, himself a former hunter who had been behind bars for 5 days fined P 5,000.00 when the Lores was captured in 1999, started to chase them. They quickly went away. Unfortunately, I was not able to take a clear picture of their banca against the low standing sun.

This incident again demonstrates that a patrol boat is urgently needed to enforce the ban on hunting dolphins and other protected species in this area. Unfortunately, hardly any funds are available for such a patrol boat, and even if such a boat is donated, funds will be required for its maintenance and continuous operation, which will also cost considerable in wages and fuel.

After about three hours of dolphin watching, we set course for Pamilacan, a small island which is the home of fishermen, and our crew. On our way here, we come across yet more dolphins, this time the bottlenose dolphin. This species is somewhat larger and darker than the spinner dolphin, and is not able to

Dolphin skeleton
A dolphin skeleton, dolphin tails
and shark-jaws on display in
the fish shop on Pamilacan island.
spin as his smaller cousin. On Pamilacan, we visit the local fish trader and buy some freshly caught fish, considerably cheaper than in Tagbilaran, and have a look at his collection of ghastly trophies from former days, when whales, dolphins and sharks were still routinely hunted by the Pamilacan fishermen. The jaws of numerous sharks, and a complete spinner dolphin skeleton decorate the walls of his shop. We continued our trip to the other side of the island. The cliffs on the north-west of Pamilacan island are now painted with the letters S A N C T U A R Y, and the reef in front of the cliff is now off-limits for all fishing, to serve as a much needed nursery for young fish. The fishing ban here is enforced by the local fishermen themselves, who understand the need of such sanctuaries to be able to maintain reasonable catches at other places, and the fine is a heavy P 1000.

On the north side of Pamilacan island stands an old Spanish watch tower. Build several centuries ago by the Spanish rulers to house a lookout against Moro marauders, it has now become a ruin, and is in dire need of some action to prevent further decay. Similar towers can be found in several places on Bohol, the most well known and best preserved is the tower at Punta Cruz, Maribojoc, and the tallest that of Panglao. We walk around the watchtower and

Spanish Watchtower
The Spanish watchtower
on Pamilacan Island.
visit the small church. In the church we can find an old wooden cross, which is said to have been washed ashore at this place, prompting the local fishermen to build this church. We also visit a few houses, where we can still find some whalebones, such as parts of the spinal column and gigantic jaw-bones, from which the teeth have been removed. Without any form of motorized transport, the atmosphere on the island is peaceful, and life must be much the same as it
Wooden Cross
Wooden cross;
Pamilacan Island.
has been for hundreds of years, except that now most bancas are motorized, and that a diesel generator provides electricity from sun-set till about 10 or 11 o'clock. There are no roads, only paths connecting the various houses, and chicken and goats roam around freely. If you wish to stay on Pamilacan Island, you can do so in a small row of simple cottages on the beach. They are without electricity or running water, but just provide a shelter for the night. Including three meals they are P500 per night. A wonderful place to relax for a couple of days and do nothing but watching the beach, the waves, and the contours of the islands of Bohol and Panglao in the distance. If you want to stay here, you'll either have to bring your own food for the first day.
The Resort on Pamilacan
The Resort on Pamilacan.
Otherwise one day's notice will be required to allow the proprietor to buy the required food. We will not stay here now, but do have an excellent Filipino meal at the place. After our lunch, we go for a swim and some snorkeling along the beach.

The reef directly in front of the beach here has been extensively damaged by destructive fishing methods, such as dynamite fishing. Little away from the harbor, the reef is already considerably better, and to the east of the island, the reefs are on of the favorite destinations of the divers, who come here with large bancas from Alona beach.

After our snorkeling, we all board the banca again for our trip back to Alona beach, which we reach after about one hour, tired but happy with our inspiring meeting with the dolphins.

How to make your own Dolphin watching trip

Pamilacan Island Whale and Dolphin Watching Tours
Contact Person: Joselino "Jojo" S. Baritua
Address: Public Market, Poblacion, 6301 Baclayon, Bohol, Philippines
Phone: (+63) (38) 5409279
Phone: (+63) 919 7306108
Email: pamilacan@yahoo.com
Website: http://whales.bohol.ph/
To organize your own dolphin wathcing trip, contact Mr. Joselino "Jojo" S. Baritua. His office is at the Public Market, Poblacion, Baclayon, Bohol.

Since he is often at sea, maybe the best way to reach him is by sending an text (SMS) message. The price will depend on the number of persons on board. Best is to go with a group, so that the cost of the boat can be shared. Dolphins can be spotted year-round, but you'll have the best change to spot a whale from March to May.

How to get to Bohol

Flights now connect Bohol with Manila daily, so you can now easily fly to Manila, then transfer to the domestic terminal for a connecting flight (1 or 2 hours, depending on aircraft type) to Tagbilaran. Alternatively, you can fly to Cebu (directly from abroad via Singapore, or via Manila), and then use a fast ferry (1.5 hours) to Tagbilaran. You can also take a flight from Cebu to Tagbilaran (half an hour), but given the time it takes to get to the airport, this hardly gains you anything, except some nice sights of Bohol from the air. From Tagbilaran, it is about 25 minutes to Alona Beach, and 15 to Baclayon.

Where to stay at Alona Beach

Alona beach has large number of resorts in various price-classes and quality. It is certainly worthwhile to check-out a few places and compare prices and facilities. At the low-end of the price range, Alonaville rents out simple, somewhat run-down, cottages with fan at about P400 / $8 per night. Better cottages, with or without air-con can be had at Bohol Divers, starting at P1200 / $24. If you wish to stay a little bit away from the noise and hectic at the beach, you can rent nice and clean, fully furnitured houses with kitchen at P1000 / $20 per night at Flower Garden Resort. This is very good value for money, and, considering that you can do your own cooking, is actually cheaper than even the most run-down cottage straight on the beach. Since there are only three houses and a duplex, reservations are certainly recommended here. Also a little away from the beach is Sunapartelle, which offers very attractive luxury apartments, with air-con, kitchen, and has a good restaurant (and one of the few places in Bohol serving vegetarian food), all in a lovely garden. You will certainly love the swimming-pool here, as it is set romantically in a natural hollow, connected to caves, some three to four meters below the surrounding garden. At the high end of the price range is, recently opened after over four years of construction, is Alona Palm Beach Resort. Here the luxury rooms go for P5500 / $110 per night. Each room is actually in a separate building, set in a nicely landscaped garden direct on the beach. The swimming pool is the largest on the beach, and boasts an edge with waterfall, such that, when you are swimming in it, it appears to be a continuation of the sea.

P.S. We learned Mr. Caraven "Ben" Guirigay recently deceased. We send our condolences to his family.

Jeroen Hellingman

What readers think...

Alvin Apellanes wrote:
Thursday, 23 October 2014 05:42:23 PHT
Hi, I'm looking to hire a bangka for dolphin watching for 10 people on Nov 5. Please post contact information. Thank you.
Joy wrote:
Thursday, 16 January 2014 13:58:35 PHT
Van/car for rent with driver and fuel included... Just call/text me at this # 09422592116 or you can email me boholtour33@yahoo.com for more details!!!
ANN wrote:
Sunday, 12 January 2014 02:47:05 PHT
In july 2014 we are going to Bohol. We will stay there 3 full days. Can somebody help us to make a tour with private guide? We want to see the chocolate hills, tarsier, butterfly garden and also spotting dolphins and waves. We are going with 3 adults. Thanks for helping us.
WELCOME TO BOHOL wrote:
Thursday, 9 August 2012 21:51:48 PHT
CHEAP BOHOL TOUR PACKAGES, 1.panglao island day tour 2.bohol countryside tour 3.dolphin watching and island hopping rent a car or van with tour driver/guide. just text or call contact number:+6392839000526 .look for RANYL
Annie wrote:
Thursday, 2 August 2012 13:25:10 PHT
What r d safety gdlines during whale watching?

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