The Agence France-Presse (AFP) recently did a story on the growing popularity of eco-tourist activity whale-shark swimming. Known to locals as butanding, the unaggressive whale shark can whaleshark.gifgrow as big as a school bus and weight as much as 30 tons. More than 11,000 eco-tourists have swum with whale sharks in 2006, the goal of each excited swimmer to spot its distincting pale yellow spotted back and fins.

A common sight in the waters of Donsol, Bohol, the butanding frequently feeds on plankton whose populations explode in the time between January and June. These gentle giants are protected by Philippine and international law and are now the source of significant income for the inhabitants of Donsol. In 2006, the former sleepy fishing town earned more than PHP12M in tours and related activities.

Little was understood of the butanding prior to a CEMEX-sponsored study by a small team of marine biologists and volunteers, led by eminent marine biologist Angela Quiros. Local scientists are now building a better picture of the whale shark thanks to this groundbreaking study. Meanwhile, local tour guides continue to advise eco-tourists to swim to within a few dozen feet of the whale sharks, considered a safe distance in case the butanding decides to turn over.

Interested eco-tourists will find the experience exhilirating. Given that Donsol doesn’t have the infrastructure to host most visitors, eco-tourists usually have to book rooms at some nearby Bohol resorts. A popular Panglao resort like the first-class Flushing Meadows Resort in Bohol often offers Guests a great homebase from which to making appointments to visit Donsol to swim with the whale sharks; the wide selection of facilities and activities at this Bohol resort, including its world-class tennis courts, offer variety appreciated by eco-tourists throughout the world.