Bianca Grey of Rappler asked me for a piece on my most memorable travels around the country. Hands down, it was the Sardine Run of Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu.
MOALBOAL, Cebu City – From afar, it looked like we were floating into an underwater valley that vanished into the blue.
But then I remembered we were diving around a very small island with no other rock formations visible from above. It was impossible to have something this huge and this dense underwater with no manifestation from the surface. Then, as we got closer to these formations, our eyes adjusted and all of a sudden, the wall on the left didn’t look like a wall at all. Because walls don’t stay still. It was shifting, turning, and sparkling against the sunlight with parts of it breaking away for a split second and then coming back.
Three months ago, there were reports of millions of sardines mysteriously appearing along the reef of Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu. There were mixed reports — some had said the sardines had been there for years while others say that this is a “now” phenomenon. Net of it all: recently, divers from all over the country made the journey to Moalboal to experience millions of sardines dancing and shimmering amidst the blue backdrop of the ocean.
Welcome to Pescador Island. Having dove the area the previous day we already were very much acquainted with the mysterious sardine run that appeared around the island. Locals discovered the sudden influx of millions of sardines. Two months prior, word got out to the dive community. Along with the sardines came predatory thresher sharks that would appear ’round the clock for feeding time. Today though, we were not prepared for what we were about to experience!
0:01 The plan was to descend to 60ft and wait in one of the coves. The cove would disperse the bubbles that we were making underwater so as not to scare the sharks away. Less bubbles, the better. Within one minute of waiting, our dive master pointed downwards, suddenly excited. Expecting threshers, we were in for a very special treat. A whale shark’s mouth suddenly became visible from 70ft and the fish was making its way up.
0:06 That’s me screaming “OH MY GOD!” in tandem with everyone else.
0:16 Still screaming, I decided to swim into the blue towards the fish. The whole body became visible at this point and the whale shark was around 20 ft.
0:25 Despite how “slow” the fish looks due to its nonchalant and graceful movements underwater, it is pretty damn fast.
0:32 Wowie had the same idea and swam after the shark as well. As you can see, he’s finning pretty damn hard to catch up as well.
0:39 That’s me laughing and catching my breath. “It’s too fast!”
0:51 Jan appears on my right. A stroke of luck — the whale shark decides to make for the surface and breach, which meant that we would be able to catch up. I swim faster to get a better view.
0:59 You can hear my dive computer beeping. It’s not just mine. Everyone was beeping. We were too excited and were rising fast. We stabilized at 40ft. Again, from the video it seems that the shark moves very slow but don’t be fooled by its graceful movements — it’s fast!
1:19 A small school of sardines swim by adding a bit of foreground to the already amazing sighting.
1:39 In full view (what an amazing sight!), the shark starts to dive again.
1:42 Holy #$%^ it’s getting closer. We’re at 80ft.
1:48 We make eye contact as it turns toward me. I have never experienced anything like this before. Adrenaline and fear were playing a game of tug of war with my wits.
1:53 I must point out that although I had video on the whole time I was barely looking at the camera. I’d glance once in a while to see if I still had the creature within my frame. The shark passes me. I was two meters away. I wanted to swim closer but doing so might have agitated the fish.
2:08 The shark makes its way to my dive buddies. You can see strobes going off. We had a “no strobes” policy for shooting the threshers and sardines because the former have very sensitive eyes. Nobody said anything about strobes off with a whale shark. HEH.
2:59 One of the girls screaming “Oh my god!” as it makes its way back towards us. WOW. Heck, everyone was screaming.
3:08 One last pass, but not as close as the previous one.
I had snorkeled with whale sharks before in Donsol but it has no comparison to actually diving with one. Moalboal was a big dive spot in the 90’s but because of dynamite fishing, the area degraded. Due to storms, Pescador Island’s white sand has now eroded into the rough cliffs. The mysterious arrival of the sardines has created a boom in local tourism. Who knows how long the fish will stay?
If you’re planning on going to Pescador Island to experience the sardine run, you have to go NOW.