Saturday, June 15, 2013

Land And Sea (Part 1)

 In a span of 24 hours, we've gone from being out at open water to look for whale sharks

My bro and I waiting for the boat

...To trekking the hills for a hidden piece of paradise.

   And it's all just here in Pangasinan! I've been living here for the most part of my life and I just assumed it was forever going to be a boring little town.

 For those who don't know, Pangasinan is a coastal province that's a few hours away before Baguio.

    Last June 7,  me, my bro, my mom and her best friend went to one of the beaches at San Fabian after hearing news that whale sharks (locally known as butanding) were hanging around the coast for the past few years. Why they decided it to be part of their migratory route, I wouldn't know. But the local fishfolk said they're usually there from May to June.

We were up bright and early for our little adventure and drove to Center Beach. We asked the locals about the butanding and the boat rental rates. One of them said P1000. Which is ridiculous since there were only 4 of us and the boats in general can only accomodate 5 or 6 people at the most. We found one fisherman who offered to take us around for P800 (which later on became P600 because of my mom's superbargaining skills) though he said he couldn't guarantee  we'd see the whale sharks today since none of their peers haven't spotted them this morning.  We decided to take the risk. I mean, there's a bigger chance of actually seeing a whale shark in its habitat than just be sitting ducks on the shore, right?

Photo-op before boarding the boat.
  I was a bit grumpy as we got on the boat because I woke up at 5.30am for this. People close to me know that I don't wake up early just for anything so I figured if we don't see a whale shark today, at least let me see some vaguely interesting marine life for Christ's sake. A jellyfish. A sea urchin. A sea cucumber. Anything.

  As the boat rumbled away to the horizon, I realized that aside from a sharp sense of sight, fishermen must've also developed super-sensitive hearing because I can't hear myself and the others amidst the noise of the engines, waves and winds and our boat man- let's call him Jay- was communicating with fellow fishermen via key phrases and hand gestures like they're only a few feet away when they're actually several meters away. One fisherman replied that he saw 2 whale sharks farther by the Binloc (or was that Dagupan?) coast.

Yours truly making whale noises in hopes of seeing the butanding. Then again, whale sharks aren't whales.
They're sharks.

 We reached the area in 15 mins. Just a few yards away as we were approaching, the surface of the water was scrambling alive with krill and tiny fishes trying to get away from an unseen predator. The whale shark was feeding.

 Jay killed the engine. Loud noises scare these peaceful creatures away. We watched in awe as the silhouette of the butanding became more visible on the surface. Then the spots and dorsal fins broke out of the water for a brief moment.

Ain't she a beauty?

 The whale shark went underwater because of a passing jetski.

 After giving the two people on the jetski the evil eye, we waited again for a few minutes before the whale shark emerged again, still going after its prey. At this point we went nuts coz it was headed to our direction . I quickly jumped in the water just to see it up close . I couldn't dive down further coz dozens of jellyfishes were casually drifting below as if they were strolling through Luneta. I hung on to the bamboo "wing" structure of the boat as the butanding came closer and closer. It swam beside the boat and it was literally just a few inches away from me.

They see me rollin'
The whale shark was as big as the fishing boat. I didn't dare touch it because marine life are extremely sensitive in general. A little side story: some idiot rode on a whale shark that was hanging out at Manila Bay, got wounded in the process, then died from infection. I'd like to blame this on the objectification/degradation of animals (LOL, no seriously, I'm not kidding) and wildlife captivity but for now let's chalk that up to plain, ruthless ignorance.

  Anyway, I caught sight of the whale shark underwater for a few seconds before it disappeared again in the depths. As I climbed back on the boat, Jay said that the whale shark's offspring swam by underneath me. GODDAMIT I DIDN'T EVEN SEE IT

 Elated with our successful interaction with the peaceful, majestic creature, we made our way to a nearby resort for a bathroom break (someone ate some bad kaldereta the night before LOL). On our way there, Jay pointed out the boats drifting nearby. He said they used illegal dynamites.

 Dynamite fishing?? we exclaimed. Even with whale sharks in the vicinity? Where are the coast guards? Does DENR know? Quick, someone contact Imbestigador!

 Jay explained that the coast guards barely have any budget to function properly, much less even go after the illegal dynamite fishermen. "They've gotten lazy," he says in Tagalog. He added that he can even feel the impact while he's on his boat.  So what happens to the whale sharks in the area?

 "They probably get disoriented."

  After our little pit stop at the resort, we went back out at sea and Jay approached one of the dynamite fishing vessels and casually chatted up the fishermen. He got a handful of their fish  and after they've left, Jay showed us what the fishes look like when they're freshly caught via explosives.
a.) On the outside, the fish's stomach area looks slightly bloated.
b.) If you cut open the stomach, the intestines look "sabog" or have the appearance of the innards have completely fallen apart.

Okay, honestly for one I wouldn't know the difference between a dynamite-caught fish and a fish that had one too many worms, so this is all news to me.

 We were back on shore by 10am. Before I could even catch my breath, my mom says that one of her high school classmates have contacted her. He was inviting us to visit his little piece of Baguio at San Carlos area.

Umm OK.

Regarding the issue with whale sharks and dynamite fishing, we'll try to get the word about it through one of my tita's contacts at DENR.

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