We are on Malapasqua, a island north of Cebu to do a bit of diving with the hope of seeing some Thresher Sharks. Malapasqua is a small island, with only around 2000 adults and some 5000 children! I can report its another slice of paradise with white sandy beaches, palm trees and like many other islands in the Philippines, its has no food outlets, no ATMs and here there are no roads. I did not know what to expect, other than to see the Thresher sharks, its needs an early start ... sunrise, that's 5am!
We've done a fair bit of diving in the Philippines over the past few weeks and, other than wrecks, we have only really see the small stuff, basically critters. I wanted to see some big stuff, the pelagic species, like Sharks and Rays. We planned four days on the island to give us a good chance of sighting the Thresher Sharks, the raison d'etre for the dive resorts on Malapasqua. However as we are traveling and I don't need to turn up to work until January, this could be extended depending on our luck.
Tim with Toto
So of we started with our daily schedule, a 4.30am rise to hop on the boat and head off to Monad Shoal. Monad Shoal is a sunken island at a depth of some 20m which has sheer drop off to the bottom of the Cebu-Leyte trench, some 800 metres deep. The thresher sharks come up from the trench to be cleaned by small cleaner wrasse, who pick parasites off the sharks. They really only come in the mornings, as the sharks have big sensitive eyes, adapted to living deeper than 100 metres.
The first four days Sarah and I spent an hour every morning just looking out into the blue. Despite the best efforts of our divemaster, Toto, we saw nothing. I was beginning to wonder if our luck would ever turn and the early starts for an hour of boredom were getting a little frustrating. But day five was different... it turned out that there was a fiesta on the island, the most important annual fiesta for the island folk. This means some speedboat racing, a cockfight and a disco until 2am. After diving with Toto for the past five days, I promised to back his two chickens in the cockfight, two cocks that he had personally grown from chicks for the past 18 months. He was quite pleased as the more backing a Filipino can get for their chicken, the better ... it gives them a better chance of organising a decent opponent. I handed over a few hundred Peso's and following a morning diving I turned up at the fiesta later in the day.
The speedboat racing was something else. Small minimalist wooden boats with a 6.5Bhp lawnmower engine strapped on top to make it fly across the waters surface, as best as they can. They is no clutch or gearing, just a few chaps holding the revs of the boats back until the flag goes down. It was impressive to see and there was a clear sense of pride in the winners, having custom made their boats with minimal resources ... just wood nails and a small 6.5 BHP engine.
Getting ready in a custom built speedster!
The cock fight was very similar to the one I have seen before but as this was a small island, it was on a much smaller scale. I was just about to head back to base when Toto turned up with a glass of beer and the promise of some Chicken soup ... both of his chickens had lost, so chicken soup was the only thing on the menu this evening! After a fill full of chicken soup and a skin-full of beer, I limped back home at 1.30am... and with no hope of diving the following morning.
Sarah, being the sensible one, was already in bed, saving herself for the the 5am Thresher Shark start. And with a stroke of luck she saw a couple of sharks and a couple of devil rays. I was a little gutted, coupled with feeling a little delicate. To help ease the hangover out of my system, I decided to head out for the 1.30pm dive to try see Manta Rays on Monad Shoal. I was told that this is the wrong time of year, but "you never know, you may get lucky". Sarah, brimming with glee from the mornings dive, decided to pass. So off we went at 1.30pm, without too much in the way of hope. I was diving with a Japanese geezer, who spoke no English but as we spend most of the time underwater, it did not matter. We descended the line and promptly had a 5m wide Manta ray loom overhead. This thing was HUGE and I was gobsmacked, to the point that my regulator almost fell out of my mouth. After trying his best to get some pictures the Japanese chap came over and shook my hand ... very aggressively.
Manta Ray on Mondad Shoal
But this was not the end. We had a further nine passes from Manta Ray's, by at least two individuals, one with lobes, one without. It was an exceptional experience. I can only thank Toto and the late night of drinking as without this, I would have not seen the Manta's. Following this dive resolve set in and, after an early night in bed, the following morning I finally got the chance to see the Thresher Sharks, at least 4 individuals circling for the whole hour. Paul our Dive Guide on this occasion rated this as is best ever Shark dive as one shark breached the surface with us underneath. I didn't see it, but heard it and saw the shark return to the cleaning station. I left with a gleeful smile and the some satisfaction at letting the fiesta get the better of me two nights before !
Thresher Shark off Monad Shoal: Courtesy of & Copyright © Jason Isley / Scubazoo
With the help of a few video clips from my Japanese dive buddy and another German diver with us, I compiled a short clip of our final day on Monad Shoal. Enjoy:
Thresher Sharks, Devil & Manta Rays on Monad Shoal
We are leaving Malapasqua on a high, after seven days diving, in which we were lucky to have an incredible couple of dives to finish it off. We are off to Leyte when I am planning to get some caving in thanks to a caving contact.