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The Philippines

Dolphin watching in the Philippines
February 2009
Other than Taiwan, Bohol of the Philippines can be considered as one of the nearest dolphin watching spots to Hong Kong. The dolphin watching tour I joined was led by former fishermen who were whale hunters. They transformed into whale watching operators with the help of a conservation group and they are now using their whale spotting skill to lead whale watching tours.
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One has to get up at around 4 am and leave your room at 5:25am in the dark if you go dolphin watching in the Philippines. Because of the rain and strong wind, our tour on the first day was postponed. That means we had to gather at the hotel lobby at 5:30am on three consecutive days. After waiting for one whole day, I eventually had the chance to see dolphins! We set off from Alona Beach and sailed for roughly an hour before the Short-finned Pilot Whales appeared. They came in quite a large group of at least 10 animals. They looked quite chunky with a big round head and bulky but long body. They approached quite close to our boat.
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To our surprise, the tiny Fraser’s Dolphins appeared along with the pilot whales. In other places like the Azores, pilot whales are also found to associate with other cetaceans. The shy Fraser’s dolphins have a short beak and a pinkish belly. I have seen them once in Hualien of Taiwan but they came really close to us this time. I even managed to take a shot of their face!
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On the second day, we set off from Baclayon Pier at around 6:00am. We had a brief encounter with two black whales around 6:45 am but we lost sight of them very soon. Would they be the pilot whales we met the day before? We kept on searching in the choppy sea and the guide kept on exchanging information with other boats. It was only until 8:20 am that we found a group of Spinner Dolphins near to Pamilacan Island. I managed to take pictures of them leaping out of water!
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After a while, the guide wanted to bring us to the island for lunch (that was only 8:45am in the morning!). As we chartered the boat, I requested them to do that only until it is 9:30am. At 9:15am, he asked again and we agreed. Getting on shore, he asked us to have lunch again but I said it was only breakfast time and we only agreed to have lunch after the village tour.

The whale watching conditions
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The whale watching conditions in the Philippines is only fair. First of all, it is about the boats, locally called banca. The structure of the boat used on the first day was fairly stiff and could be clung to when taking pictures. Yet on the second day, the bench in the boat was loosened! The small boat rocked quite severely and if you want to stand at a higher position to take pictures, you need to hold on to the pole. Even if you do that, it is still very difficult to take pictures. The boat rocked fiercely though the waves were not strong. Even if you’ve got the dolphins in focus, they easily came out of focus or even out of scope with the rocking of the boat. The light is not strong enough in the morning and you need to use a bigger aperture. It is much easier to have out of focus pictures under this condition.
As the skippers are whale hunters in the past, and they became involved in tourism when whaling was forbidden some ten years ago, they do not know much about whales and dolphins. On the first day, they identified the two species wrongly. Even if they saw dolphins swimming towards the boat, they had not slowed down. The engine also roared like thunder, and I simply could not hear what others were saying.
They do not have much concept about time. They only bothered to take tourists out to look for dolphins and hastily bring you to the next stop, even if you were on the sea for just a short time. They do not following their dolphin watching schedule of 3 hours as published on their website. Oh well, I had never seen them wear a watch.
Hong Kong to Bohol: can be reached via Manila. You can also take a direct flight to Cebu and get there by boat.