El Nido Protected Area is renowned for its beautiful flora and fauna. There are many species of birds, fishes, corals, turtles you can see while touring in the region. These are species you can see all year-long in this part of Palawan island.
One of the most popular and beloved marine animals are whales and dolphins. And as there is a dolphins and whale-watching activity available in Puerto Princesa, it’s not unusual for tourists coming to visit our little tropical paradise to ask if they can also spot some in the Bacuit and El Nido bays. The short answer to that is “yes, but not at every time of the year“.
Plus, if you spot a whale or a dolphin while island hopping in El Nido, there are things you should know and avoid to do to give to these highly sociable and intelligent animals the respect they desserve. These are the topics will cover in this article!
Seeing whales and dolphins in El Nido, Palawan
There is an endemic specie of dolphins to this part of Palawan: the Irrawaddy Dolphin. Unfortunately, it is now an endangered species with a population of only 42 individuals according to the last number gathered in 2012. There are very few chances to spot them, and that’s probably for the best since any interaction with humans could mean a great disturbance to them.
There are also nomad several species that pass through the Bacuit Bay and that you can spot only during specific times of the year. This is notably the case for spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins (in the Philippines, both of them are called lumba-lumba – the tagalog word for dolphin) and Minke whale. As well as for the biggest fish on earth: the whale-shark (butanding in tagalog).
If you come in El Nido between the months of November and February, you might have a chance them to spot them! Actually, at the time we’re writing this article, there is a Minke whale cruising in the Bacuit Bay. It has been spotted by various groups of divers but only very quickly: this animal is very sensitive to noise and will get away because of the boats motor.
This is not the only majestic animal that can be spotted in El Nido right now, since there is also a whale shark. It has been spotted just a few hundred meters away from El Nido beach. This is exceptional for sure, but it’s a proof that it can happen here… and we feel very privileged for it!
Are There Whale-Watching Tours in El Nido?
There are no whale-watching tour in El Nido. The fact is that, even though it’s possible to spot whales or dolphins in El Nido, it’s actually pretty rare. There couldn’t be any organized tour promising you to see whales and dolphins when the chances of spotting them would be so low.
In the end, this is probably not such a bad thing. The fact is that whale-watching and dolphin-watching tours offered in other places in Philippines often look like “cetaceans-chasing tours”… I witnessed it myself while traveling in Bohol and Panglao. There was a dolphin-watching tour my friends absolutely wanted to do and I agreed to join them for observational purposes – even if I knew it would probably be done in total disregard of any whale-watching guidelines.
My fears were unfortunately to be confirmed. The “dolphin-watching” in Panglao consisted of going after a group of dolphins who were hunting in the early morning. There was no rest for this poor group of dolphins that kept trying to escape the armada of boats seeking them.
A dozen of boats were chasing them relentlessly and I even saw one cutting the pod trajectory, sailing just upon them (and therefore risking to hit a dolphin with the bottom of the boat)! The tourists onboard were probably unaware of the risks the boat captains were ready to inflige to the dolphins just to get a “close look” at them, but if they knew chances are they wouldn’t have enjoyed their tour that much…
Therefore, I would recommend to any tourist caring about the well being of these animals to avoid that kind of “dolphin-watching” tours. At the time being, the requirements for a respectful whale-watching tour are absolutely not met and it results in a lot of stress for the dolphins. Since there are no national legislation (or it’s not being enforced by any authority), I guess the same things must happen in other parts of the Philippines offering similar tours.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in the Philippines
The same thing goes with the “swim with whale sharks” program offered in different parts of the Philippines and especially in Oslob, on Cebu island. This touristic activity has a disastrous effect on the whale shark population.
Instead of migrating and following the reproduction cycle they would normally have, the population of whale sharks stays in the same area because of all the free food offered by tourists willing to swim them. The logical result is a continual decrease in the whale shark population there.
If it goes on like that, in a few decades there will simply be no more whale sharks to observe there… Needless to say, if you care for these animals, just avoid that kind of “swim with whale shark” program. The facts are well documented. For example, you can check this article.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Whale-Watching
All that being said, if you happen to encounter a whale or a group of dolphins, what are the guidelines to follow to ensure a good experience for both of you? There are guidelines offered by the International Whaling Commission. Here, we’ll only give you a summary, but you can check the full document here: General Principles for Whalewatching.
The main thing is to allow cetaceans to control the nature and duration of the interactions. This implies several things:
It’s always best that your boat captain understand the behaviour of cetaceans (if it’s not the case, don’t hesitate to share your knowledge)
In approaching or accompanying cetaceans, maximum platform speed should be determined relative to that of the cetacean
Use appropriate angles and distances of approach
Friendly whale behaviour should be welcomed, but not cultivated
Avoid sudden changes in speed, direction or noise
Do no alter platform speed or direction to counteract avoidance behaviour by cetaceans
Do not pursue, head off, or encircle cetaceans or cause groups to separate
Approaches to mother/calf pairs and solitary calves and juveniles should be undertaken with special care
With these few rules in head, you’ll already be able to make a difference and allow a respectful and peaceful encounter. It’s better for both your group and for the whales and dolphins. Plus, following these guidelines will probably increase your chance of spotting them for a longer time. At least, you won’t behave in a way that will make them to want to flee!
To Sum Up
Encountering whales and dolphins (as well as dugongs or whale sharks) is a great experience and will for sure make your day a memorable one! Unfortunately, at the time being and as far as we know, there are no whale-watching, dolphin-watching or orca-watching tours in the Philippines that strictly follow the recommended guidelines for such interactions. Therefore, we wouldn’t recommend you to do any tour of that kind, because they mean a great disturbance for the cetacean (or whale-shark) populations.
If you happen to encounter a whale or a group of dolphins while cruising in the Bacuit Bay, please try to make sure the “Do’s and Don’ts” rules shared above are applied. This is important in order to avoid disturbing the animals, and it will probably allow you to spot them for a much longer time.