During the month of June, we closed down the Ocean Divers Shop due to erratic weather and limited diving on Koh Lanta, so what do us divers do when we have a break? Go diving of course! Luke and I decided to head for the Philippines as we had never really dived there before and being in close proximity to Thailand it was both accessible, relatively inexpensive to get to and has some remarkable diving!
Our first destination was Malapascua a small island off the northern tip of Cebu. Enduring 3 airline flights, 2 buses, 1 taxi and finally a boat ride we made it to the island after more than 24 hours of non stop traveling. A major plus for the Philippines is that everyone speaks English so getting around is very easy.
Our main reason for going to Malapascua was to see Thresher Sharks. You can only view Thresher sharks in a a handful of places around the world so it would not be wise of us to miss this rare opportunity to see them. We started off the weeks diving with a couple of reef dives around the island and for most parts we were diving the sites with only our guide, Jay-R, Luke and I. Most sites had countless nudibranchs, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Indian Walkmen, pipe horses, shrimps, crabs and mostly macro critters. Each dive site was completely different from the next with unique topography. We were however evaded by a pygmy seahorse (trust me we searched countless sea fans!) and one of the things we also noticed was the lack of large schools of fish mainly due to over fishing and illegal fishing practices such as dynamite fishing and using the wrong net types.
Threshers are principally a pelagic animal but Malapascua is one of the best places in the world to see such great creatures as they have a natural cleaning and feeding station here. They are one of the most distinctive sharks around with big black eyes and a very prominent caudal (tail) fin which can be as long as it’s entire body, and hence where it gets its name. The maximum length recorded is around 6m and 500kg in weight. There are 3 species of Threshers: Common, Bigeye and Pelagic with the Common being the largest and the Pelagic the smallest at up to 3m. They are generally solitary creatures and have a unique way of hunting fish. Generally it is thought that they hunt only schooling fish and then use their tails to “slap” or stun the fish before eating them. They are also one of the few known sharks to actively breach the water while hunting prey. In Malapascua you have to get up pretty early (4.30am to be exact) to watch these beauties. It is thought that during the night they dive to deeper depths to hunt and then return to the shallows as the sun rises to warm up.
The site where we saw these exquisite creatures was called Monad Shoal. An unremarkable dive site if it were not for these sharks. Monad Shoal itself is a plateau of rock that sits up from the ocean floor at around 20-24m and in fact provides a perfect viewing location for them. We arrived at the site at around 5.30am and were the first on our boat to hit the water, a little blurry eyed but high on expectations. We were not disappointed, as soon as we descended to 24m we saw another guide giving the ever familiar shark hand signal. As usual the vis wasn’t great but within a minute we were treated to our first encounter.
The first thing that hit me about them was the size of their tail but they were also sleek, mysterious, beautiful and elegant. Like no other shark I have ever encountered before they were by no means the biggest but it was something about them that made them haunting. We had 2 separate encounters on our dive. The first we believed was with a female about 4m long and then the second after 10 minutes was a smaller adolescent and both swam within 5m of our Jay-P, Luke and myself as we huddled in close and tight to the rock face. Diving on Nitrox, we could stay a little longer than most and tried to find 2 other spots to view more but alas as soon as the show started it felt like it had ended. We had around 15 minutes with them in total and by far the highlight of the trip to Malapascua and seeing as last year the sightings had become dangerously low we were all that more happy
We then spent the rest of the day diving a large wreck (Dona Marilyn) that was a passenger ferry that sunk in a typhoon over 20 years ago killing 254 people. Next dives were on the area’s best reef dive at Gato Gato island which featured some amazing swim throughs including a 50m long tunnel that went through the entire island. Another highlight was a White-tip Reef Shark chilling out and circling in a small cave. We had now come to the end of our week in Malapascua and the end of our stay here. As islands go, this has to be on the top list for divers as well as non divers. The island is beautiful, easy to walk around, accommodation to suit all needs and great food everywhere from local stalls to the big fancy restaurants. It was time to move on and our next big mission was to find a bigger fish – a Whale Shark to be exact and we were heading down to Moaboal in south western Cebu Island – just a short 7 hour bus ride away.