So I been wanting to do this for a long time.To volunteer for a Non Governmental Organization. Since I’m a mermaid I followed quite a number of most Philippine based NGO for marine conservation such as Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Greenpeace-Ph, Save Philippine Seas,Oceana-Ph, Ocean Conservancy and Balyena.org, I been supporting their cause even by just sharing post online as form of information dissemination.
Last year I really really wanted to join Balyena.org’s Humpback Whale Expedition in Southern tip of Philippines- the Babuyanes Island for summer season. I send my volunteer application but unfortunately all slots were full. But then I saw this post below :
Seriously, the ” Big Blue Whale’‘, can you imagine that, the largest animal on earth has been sighted off Bohol Sea last year 2015 at the same season. I just hope it’s just hanging around the PH waters and maybe around Bohol Sea so we can we can meet during the survey, must be a dream come true. I will probably see the real mermaid t
Without hesitation I emailed Doc Jom Acebes – head of Balyena.org about my interest in joining the survey, and even before receiving her response I went straight to my boss and ask permission to take a leave on particular dates stated above, luckily the answer is a big YES ! Moving on, arriving Tagbilaran port as early as 3am on May 18 I hurriedly took a tricycle to take me to Baclayon where Doc Jom and the rest of the volunteers will meet me. Guess what , will be heading to Pamilacan Island for our first day of the survey, it is an island in the bohol sea known for dolphin and whale sighting, in fact the tourism office of Baclayon which has jurisdiction over the island is promoting Dolphin and Whale Watching for tourist and visitors.
Since I wasn’t able to join the orientation night prior to my arrival upon meeting the group, Doc Jom immediately oriented me what to do and what to expect for a week survey.
So the team is ready, a local boat from Pamilacan island pick us up and will travel for about less than an hour to reach there. Arriving the island we were welcomed by locals whom Doc Jom is in contact with, will be staying in a simple cottage fronting a white beach, so lucky bastard again. Who says volunteering is not awesome ? 🙂
According to Doc Jom, ”of the 26 species of cetaceans around the country , 18 are commonly found in Bohol Sea, and since the sighting of the Big Blue off Bohol sea , they launch the project ”In Search of the Big Blue ” running from the months of May-June.
The Survey Team:
Doc Jom Acebes – survey lead
Volunteer Members :
Monika and Martin – from Poland
Serena Lagorio – from Italy
Luis Benjamin – from Manila
and yours truly(Alieth)- from Cebu
This is how we start the survey :
- Wake up around 6am and have an awesome breakfast prepared by our host in the island.
- After 30mins we are ready to load equipments and stuffs for the survey such us : survey sheet for recording, gps, binoculars,cameras, water, food for lunch, fruits and snacks.
- Then we hop in the boat and start our assigned task. Three member shall be the spotter for front , left and right view. One GPS handler, two photographers and two recorders.
- Once there is sightings, we get closer around 500meters away from the cetaceans and start the interaction.
- Important facts and informations are recorded in each interaction with cetaceans such as , the location in Latitude and Longitude points,the starting time and ending time of interaction, the species of whales, its characteristic, behaviour and movements.
The first three days of the survey was very fun, even if the sun is scorching hot , the spinner dolphins don’t fail to entertain me all the time. GPS points had been identified already by the organization for whale sightings and interaction for the past years so we usually followed these spots presuming these ceataceans are just there just within this radius. We had an average of 3-4 interactions a day, starting from 8am till 4pm.Each interactions can last 30mins up to an hour, we got to observe how they act, how many of them in a pod and even in which direction they headed.Interestingly we also see differences in them physically like the colour of their body , the shape of their beak and fins.
After we we call it a day we headed back to the shore tired but happy. After dinner we do log informations for each sightings. Each day is another exciting day to look forward to, thinking that the ”Big Blue” can be out there waiting for us. So after 3days of survey around the island of Pamilacan, it’s time for us to move on to another location along Bohol Sea. We will now head to Jagna Bohol, where the Organisation’s head quarter is located.
We stayed at Paseo del Mar Resort,a dive resort operated by Doc Jom’s family and where Balyena.org office is also located.The resort is facing Camiguin Island and of course fronting a coral reef where you can dip for a snorkelling session. The place has different types of accommodations and dorm rooms to accommodate guests,volunteers, researchers and divers.A restaurant is also available anytime for a hungry stomach, and for caffeine necessity, brewed coffee is there to keep you awake.
A mini kitchen is also available for those who want’s to prepare their own meals, specially market is just minutes away.In our case we did bought vegetables and fruits from the market for 3days consumption and store it in the refrigerator and cook enough for a day.
Before the 4th day of our survey, Doc Jom receive a surprising news from her friends in another conservation agencies , they spotted ”the Big Blue ” off the coast of Negros, yes just the moment when we arrive in Jagna this awesome news welcomed us.
So at that night I almost couldn’t sleep, I wanted to see the ”Big Blue” for sure, this must be a one of akind experience in a lifetime , imagine seeing the largest animal on earth which can be a size 6 elephant. But we are far from the subject , to reach dumaguete we either have to take a fast craft from tagbilaran to dumaguete which has limited schedule in a day and or hire a fast boat to reach dumaguete, but the problem is for sure its gonna be costly and the probability to see the Big Blue can be lowered as time goes by since they travel in long distances and they travel fast ;( sigh.
According to Doc Jom’s analysis it could be the same Blue Whale sighted off Alona Beach in Panglao island first week of May which moved along Bohol Sea to Tanon Strait in Negros. It is most likely be drifting with the currents towards the Sulu Sea.
Anyways, to make the story short, we decided to stay in Jagna to continue our survey for the next days, and wished ”the Big Blue” will come back. At this point two interns from Davao both were Marine Biology students joined us for the survey, Fiona and Matt.
According to Doc Jom , in the past years they recorded atleat 5common species of Cetaceans around Bohol Sea nearby Jagna such as; Melon-headed whale, Spinner Dolphins , Fraser Dolphins,Rissos Dolphins and short-finned pilot whale.Among the list, we encountered all of them except for the short-finned pilot whale.
These cetaceans have distinct characteristics which I only learned after this experience. In the beginning I thought there is only dolphins and whales which looks the same and are the same. Yes they actually belong to the same group called ”Cetaceans” in which Dolphins , whales and porpoises belong to, they are marine mammals.Meaning they depend their life in the oceans,produce milk from mammary glands to feed their babies and has blowhole in the centre of the head above the eyes,which they breathe air from their lungs and is one of the reasons why they go up to the surface of the water.
During the surveys, we also observe different behaviour from different species. To start with, there is this common and fantastic spins and stunts of the spinner dolphins, which still remains my all time favorite. One common behaviour of cetaceans is they do ”Bowriding” is when they ride the bow pressure waves of boats.Another common behaviour of spinners,melon headed-whales and Rissos dolphins is they do ‘‘Tail Slapping”, this is when they smack hard their fluke or tail on the surface of the waters, then there is this ”Spyhopping” as the term suggest, you can see half of their head coming out from the water silently as if observing what is happening around, another boring behaviour is ”Logging” or best being describe as resting, in which case you can see them moving slowly in the surface of the water being their dorsal fins above water surface. The last but most exciting behaviour of whales and dolphins I observed is then they lifts their entire body 50-100% off the waters, literally imagine them flying , this is called ”Breaching”, this one fascinates and entertains me so much thereby making me so happy. There are few hypothesis you can read online why marine animals breach, such us to dislodge parasites, mating, social interactions or just for fun. One thing is for sure I would never be tired of watching them doing this sort of stuffs.
Before our volunteer work ends, Serena from Italy also presented and shared to the team her studies about Sperm Whales in Europe.
In summary, my 10 days volunteer experience is a blast. It was a great opportunity I will never forget.This experience opens my eyes more and more about more conservation efforts in protecting marine and aquatic life specially those which are now declared endangered species, we don’t have so much time and destruction of the environment by humans is faster than we thought.We need to be part of the collective effort hence our life is so much dependent on our oceans.
It is also very important to be aware and to follow the correct guidelines in interacting with marine mammals specially dolphin and whale watching is a growing business that tourism sector is targeting now in many parts of the country.
I would like to give thanks to Balyena.org for giving this opportunity to me and other volunteers. To Doc. Jom Acebes which allotted most of her time and years of studies in understanding not just about the environmental value of Cetaceans, but also the economic and historical aspect of the Cetacean populations in Bohol Sea and some parts of the Philippines thereby producing materials and publications which results to crafting of necessary policies to be implemented across the country. Her effort is also a huge factor in helping many students experience real fieldwork in marine biology studies and also to encourage more locals in the communities to be involved in the conservation goals.
To VOLUNTEER contact Doc Jom of Balyena.org
Follow and like their FB page : https://www.facebook.com/Balyenaorg-174606515909348/
To know more about cetaceans see link below 😉
Thanks to the locals of Pamilacan island and the boat crew there.
Thanks to the boat crew from Jagna. They are funny and friendly people.
Thanks to Paseo del mar which have been our host for a week.
Thanks to my awesome new friends and volunteers; Serena, Luis, Martin, Monika, Fiona and Matt.
Here are some photos I took with my camera phone: ><(((0>
After the volunteer experience, my family joined me to celebrate my daughter’s birthday in Doljo Panglao Bohol, we lived there for 2years in the past when I was working in a dive resort.We have couple of friends there and Feona miss her playmates too, I was too excited to show Feona and tell her more about dolphins as she love the oceans very much. The following morning we went out very early to the sea heading Balicasag island, the water was so calm and flat, 15 mins after we depart from the shore, we notice 1 boat packed with people from a distance and somehow they’re looking out something in the waters. So we went closer to them and ”aja” its a pod of whales- Short-finned Pilot Whales”, they’re rather huge.
See video link below :
Sorry for my loud voice, and initially I thought it’s a melon-headed whales but Doc Jom later confirmed to me that it is ”Short finned Pilot Whales”