Whale Shark Season So Far

After a fabulous start to the whale shark season right at the beginning of November, late November through mid December was disappointing with few reported sightings. Things picked up just in time for Christmas and, despite rather rainy weather and a tropical storm passing nearby just before New Year, whale shark tours over the festive season were very successful.

That storm brought a lot of rain and water visibility was dramatically reduced for several days. By the end of the first week in January, however visibility was much improved and since then the whale shark watching has been getting better and better. As of now there are plenty of whale sharks around, and they are easy to find making for multiple interactions on each tour. With the help of marine biologists working with the Physalus marine conservation group, we yesterday identified 3 different whale sharks which had been seen here in 2013, which is interesting and doubtless many conclusions will be inferred from this small amount of data! The whale shark tours run by Padre Burgos Castle Resort are usually joined by one of the marine biologists from Physalus, who will be working here studying whale sharks until the middle of June.

Feeding Whale Shark

Close up of a whale shark feeding at the surface in Southern Leyte.

 

A few boats have been making the 5 to 7 hour trip over from Cebu to bring guests to see the whale sharks here in Southern Leyte. Oslob, in the south of Cebu Island, is much closer for such people, but they will surely have relished the wonderfully natural and totally uncrowded whale shark interactions here and found the trip more than worthwhile.

With the poorest weather associated with the north-east monsoon, or amihan, hopefully already past, and plenty of whale sharks frequenting the coastal waters of Sogod Bay, we are looking forward to a long and very successful season.

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Perfect Conditions

As usual at this time of year we are enjoying perfect conditions with warm, dry and sunny weather and excellent water visibility making for superb scuba diving, snorkeling and, of course, whale shark watching. There seem to be even more dolphins than normal and we are seeing lots of them on every trip at the moment – about 500 last time out!

First cross planted in Philippine soil - Limasawa Island, 31 March, 1521.

First cross planted in Philippine soil – Limasawa Island, 31 March, 1521.

Land based activities should not be overlooked and there are superb caves, beautiful waterfalls and the historic site of the First Mass to visit, as well as some interesting walks to hill-top churches and shrines and delightful strolls along deserted beaches.

Looking slightly further ahead, Padre Burgos Castle Resort still has some availability for both Christmas and New Year offering gala dinners with free-flow wine, champagne breakfasts, complimentary sailing and kayaking.

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The Whale Sharks Are Back

Right on cue, the whale sharks have now ‘returned’ to Sogod Bay and hopefully the season will run all the way through until next June.

The ‘early season’ is a fantastic time to see whale sharks in Southern Leyte, with great weather and a very high likelihood of being able to snorkel with these magnificent creatures all on your own.

Getting close to a whale shark in Southern Leyte.

Getting close to a whale shark in Southern Leyte.

Padre Burgos Castle Resort is again running whale shark tours for very small groups with a minimum of just 2 people. The word ‘returned’ in the opening sentence above is enclosed in quotation marks as one of the many unknowns about the whale sharks is where they are when they are not here! There are nearly as many different theories as there are marine biologists working to answer that question, as well as many others, about whale shark behaviour. During our tours we endeavour to give guests as much up-to-date information about the whale sharks as we can, and, in addition to your enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, a full-time marine biologist often joins guests on the boat to do just that.

So come and enjoy what is by far the best whale shark experience in the Philippines, if not the world.

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Scuba Diving in Padre Burgos, Leyte, Philippines

Originally posted on Sogod Bay News:

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Padre Burgos Castle Resort is the resort of choice for discerning divers with luxurious accommodation, superb food and top-class service for divers and non-divers alike. You can experience amazing scuba diving and many other wonderful activities in a beautiful, peaceful and uncrowded tropical setting and truly relax and enjoy your holiday.

Padre Burgos  is a year round diving destination justifiably rated by many as the best in the Philippines, with marine life of all shapes, sizes and colours ranging from pygmy seahorses through to magnificent, but harmless, whale sharks and an incredible variety of extremely healthy and undamaged hard and soft coral.

There are over 25 dive sites in the area, each offer something quite different. At Lungsodaan are Max’s Climax, Voltaire’s Rock and Buluarte with dives ranging from 15 up to 40 metres having pygmy seahorses, frogfish and hawksbill turtles. Big fish are also common with black and white snapper…

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Dive Southern Leyte in Small or Private Groups

Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte offers probably the finest shore based diving and snorkeling in the Philippines with walls, slopes, muck dives and marine life ranging from pygmy seahorses to whale sharks. Although very easily accessible from Manila, Cebu and Bohol tourists are few and far between and there are only a handful of dive operations.

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To enhance your enjoyment of this fabulous diving area Padre Burgos Castle Resort is now offering guided diving in very small groups. Your group of 4 can enjoy private diving, and the size of a non-private group is just 2 to 4 divers.

For private groups the programme and timing will be at your discretion, but the normal routine is an 8.30am departure from the resort’s private beach with 2 morning dives before returning to the resort for lunch. Keen divers can also enjoy an afternoon dive and night dives are also available, with the one at Padre Burgos town pier being especially recommended.

Subject to a maximum number of 6 guests on the boat, snorkelers can also join the diving groups while snorkeling only tours, including whale shark watching, are run for groups of between 2 and 6 people.

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Whale Shark Season 2013-14

7 metre whale shark in Southern Leyte.

7 metre whale shark in Southern Leyte.

After excitement late in the season with frequent whale shark sightings in the 2nd half of May through early June, it is now time to declare the 2013-14 whale shark season as being over. And an unusual season it has been.

After perfect conditions in late October, our anticipation of the new whale shark season was overshadowed by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which, thankfully, caused no damage or injuries in Southern Leyte. As things returned to normal, there were regular reports from fisherman of whale shark sightings all around Sogod Bay, but not consistently at the usual congregation area near Pintuyan. This made finding whale sharks for guests almost impossible, as the area to be surveyed was huge. By early March hopes for reliable whale whark watching were fading when whale sharks began feeding in Calian bay near Liloan. Despite extremely limited visibility we enjoyed several days of superb snorkeling with several whale sharks in close proximity and no other boats in the vicinity.

The whale sharks were feeding extremely actively on shrimp spawn, and as that dissipated the whale sharks headed south and finally ended up at Pintuyan. We expected them to stay in that area, but strangely they didn’t and April and May yielded no whale shark sightings, or even reports of them from fishermen, until the late season flurry a couple of weeks ago.

The reasons for this unusual pattern of whale shark behaviour are unknown. Some people attribute it to the heavy seas brought on by Typhoon Haiyan; others to the artificial feeding undertaken at Oslob in southern Cebu. Neither of this explanations stands up to rational analysis, and the most likely explanation is just natural variation.

Certainly we’re looking forward to the return of the whale sharks and some great whale shark watching next season which should start around late October. In the meantime, we can enjoy the ‘summer’ which usually brings us great weather, superb diving and snorkeling conditions, and consistent south-westerly breezes for excellent sailing.

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Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) – Effect on Southern Leyte

As most of the world knows, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Philippine name Yolanda) was one of the most violent storms ever to make landfall. On Friday, 8th November 2013 it brought death and devastation to parts of the central Philippines, most notably Tacloban City on the north-east coast of the island of Leyte. The death toll will never be known with certainty, but several thousands of people tragically lost their lives in the storm and tens of thousands of others lost their homes and possessions. Debate will rage as to whether more should have been done to get people to safety. Certainly both the path and the severity of the storm were very accurately predicted several days in advance of its arrival, and hopefully lessons will be learnt for the future.

Although the impact of the storm in the worst affected areas was truly horrific, and the legacy of that will remain for perhaps years to come, the size of the area badly affected was relatively small. Here, at the southernmost tip of the island of Leyte, we are about 120 km south of Tacloban City and there was no noteworthy damage to life or property. Very strong winds raged for about 4 hours, and many trees were brought down, but the wind was not strong enough to damage even the most basic of buildings. By early afternoon that day, the sun was out, there was only a stiff breeze and it was a pleasant day, with only the sea still churning fiercely as a reminder of the morning’s storm.

There is a very large geothermal electricity generation plant near Ormoc City in northern Leyte, which serves not only the island of Leyte but many other parts of the Visayas. The transmission lines were badly damaged in the storm and electricity was not restored in Padre Burgos until 25th November, some 2 1/2 weeks after the storm. As power outages are quite common many businesses and private residences have generators. There was a huge increase in the demand for fuel to service these generators, but the fuel distributors quickly got organised to send fuel tankers by ship from Cebu, and generators and public transport were able to operate without interruption.

Here in the province of Southern Leyte there were some knock-on effects from the lack of electricity and the damage to communication lines, with banks and ATM’s being unable to operate for a few days and small businesses, which need electricity but could not afford to run generator, (such as small bakeries) having to close. But food, water and, after just a few days, fuel were always in plentiful supply, public transport was fully operational and life in Southern Leyte was almost completely normal even before the electricity was restored on 25th November.

Communications from our guests and posts on various on-line travel fora indicate that many people are still concerned about conditions in large areas of the Philippines from Luzon to Mindanao. We cannot answer for other areas, but the only issue now facing visitors to Southern Leyte is that there are still only a reduced number of commercial flights operating in and out of Tacloban airport. Certainly Padre Burgos Castle Resort, and other resorts and hotels in Southern Leyte, are fully operational and all tourist activities and facilities are available. Most notably, the magnificent coral reefs in Sogod Bay were not damaged by the storm.

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