A much in demand tourist activity in Bohol nowadays is dolphin and whale watching. Several species of whales and dolphins have made the waters south of Bohol as their home. The area is Bohol’s, if not one of the Philippines, main migration route for marine mammals and cetaceans.
In years past, the area has been the source of income for whale hunters. With the enforcement of laws on marine preservation though, hunting has stopped. Now, with the help of the tourism industry, the whalers have a new livelihood – guiding tourists on whale-watching trips.
The whaling boats, called canters, have been refitted. These boats are large outrigger boats and are 15 to 20 meters in length. Now these crafts have seats and roofing to provide comfort to tourists. Most of these outrigger boats can accommodate 5 to 7 passengers. Larger boats can accommodate more, even up to 15 passengers.
The sea around Pamilacan Island is where these whales and dolphins are often spotted. It is believed that the area is home to at least thirteen species of cetaceans. Bryde’s whales and sperm whales have been sighted. The Bryde’s whale is a massive plankton-eating baleen whale that can reach up to 15 meters while the sperm whale reaches up to 18 meters. The sperm whale, often the prime target of whalers the world over, is also considered as the largest predator.
These large whales are sometimes seen alone yet oftentimes have been observed to travel in groups of 20 or more. They sleep on the surface, breach, and pound the water with their giant flukes. These whales are not hunted much locally because of their size and reputation for fighting back and are the most commonly sighted large whale in the Philippines.
Smaller whales often seen in the area are the pygmy killer whale, short-finned pilot whale and the melon-headed whale. The most commonly sighted dolphins are the playful spinner dolphin, the Risso’s dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the spotted dolphin and the Fraser’s dolphin. The latter is actually a whale.
The waters at the southern coast of Pamilacan Island is where the current is the strongest and is the dolphins’ play area. Dolphins are playful mammals and very social. They live in small and large groups. You may only see 2 or 3 on the surface yet normally 5-10 are underwater. So if you see more on the surface, twice the number is underwater.
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The area around Pamilacan Island is now a Marine sanctuary. The island is surrounded by a “fringing reef” and main marine species are starfish, seagrasses, crinoids, crown of thorns and cleaner wrasses.
All the whales and many of the dolphins are most active at night and during early morning so the best schedule for a dolphin and whale watching trip is at dawn. The best time to go on these trips begins in March until the onset of the rainy season in June or July. Tours though are dependent on weather and sea conditions.
Tour guides available are skilled spotters. They were the once avid whale hunters and have the uncanny abilities of locating the great creatures. They home in on them with a sighting rate of nearly 100%. Tourists are usually rewarded with a sighting of these resident dolphins and small whales which are found all year round.
Experienced and trained guides are a must so that proper procedures are followed to avoid unnecessary stress on the mammals. These mammals will continue to inhabit the waters if they are not much disturbed.
Pamilacan Island is a small island that lies at the heart of the Bohol Sea. Its name was derived from the word ‘pamilac’ or harpoon, a large hooked implement used by the fishermen to capture whale sharks, manta rays and even dolphins. The island is 45 minutes to 1 hour pump boat ride from the town of Baclayon.
The island is made of coral and fossilized seashells that one can observe even on the island’s rocky hill. It is made up of three sitios, one facing Baclayon, another located inland and the third on the southern coast. It is home to a fishing community that is closely knit though small, about 200 families.
Because of past whale hunting expeditions, almost all houses in Pamilacan has large jaws and bones of marine mammals gracing their walls. This makes the island more interesting to the local and foreign tourists alike aside from being lured by white sand beaches, magnificent dive sites and abundant marine life.
In fact, Pamilacan island used to have a whaling industry where generations have been hunted the passing whales. Fortunately for all, both humans and animals, that has changed and these whale hunters have become the best whale guides in Bohol whale watching trips.
The Pamilacan whale men have the uncanny ability to locate these great mammals, finding them with great accuracy without GPS equipment. Definitely worth every peso.
Dolphins are a daily sights in these waters. Frequently seen dolphins include the playful spinner, Risso's, Bottlenose, and the Fraser which is actually a whale.
Large whale species are also frequently seen. Still, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact season for seeing whales. April to June offers more signting probably due to calm and clear waters.
Among smaller whales often seen are the pygmy killer whale, short-finned pilot whale and the melon headed whale. Huge whales, everybody's favorite, includes the Bryde's whale and the giant sperm whale.
The Bryde is a massive plankton-eating baleen whale, that can reach up to 15m in length.
The sperm whale is one of the planet's largest predator can reach up to 18m. This favorite of whalers is sometimes seen alone but has also been seen in groups of 20 or more mammals. They may be seen sleeping on the surface, breaching, and pounding on the water with their great flukes.
Sperm whales are not often hunted by local whalers due to their size but mainly because they are reputed to fight back. Sperm whales are the most commly sighted large whale in the Philippines.
Whale Sharks also made occasional sightings at the warm and calm waters of Bohol. Though actually a shark (the biggest fish), not a whale, but its tremendous size can think one has seen a whale. Still, it is of great satisfaction to see one which are now in the peak of extinction.
Bohol whale watching packages
Packaged whale watching tours with reliable guides are available in Tagbilaran City and at the Panglao Island.
All the whales and many of the dolphins are at their most active at night and during early morning. The best schedule for a Bohol whale watching trip is a pre-dawn departure.
Hiring an experienced and trained guide will maximize the chances of actual contact with whales and dolphins. Guides are also trained to ensure proper procedures and avoid unnecessary stress on the animals.
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