We are dealing with wild animals in their habitat
Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) visit the offshore waters of Palawan between December and June, coinciding to the shoaling season for “dilis” or “alamang”, a small crustacean that comprise a significant part of their diet. While Sperm Wales (Physeter macrocephalus) and Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) also show up from time to time in the area, Minke Whales are the most conspicuous among large cetaceans and the only native baleen whales. During the season, they are relatively abundant in northern Palawan, being the Balacuit Bay and the mouth of Malampaya Sound the best places to spot them.
Small / medium-sized pelagics
Unlike baleen whales, toothed cetaceans are found in Palawan throughout the year. Pelagic species (those inhabiting offshore waters) can be quite difficult to locate though. Typically nomadic, they undertake large-scaled movements, often in sparsely aggregated groups which keep in touch and even socialize thanks to echolocation. That is the case of Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and Risso’s Dolphins (Gramphus griseus), to which European and North American naturalists will be quite familiar. Stenella dolphins [Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (S. attenuata)], otherwise, will be likely the first to show up, as they approach boats to swim alongside.
The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to spot Fraser’s Dolphins (Lagenodelphis hosei), species that was described just half century ago from bone remains, but which at the end doesn´t seem to be that rare, at least in the waters of the archipelago.
Truly rare are the Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra), both for their small numbers and striking appearance. Most of what is known about them has been yielded by a few stranded animals. Melon-headed Whales are easy to identify from their white lips contrasting over a dark background. They tend to flock with other cetaceans of similar size, such as the Fraser’s Dolphin.
Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
Pantropical Spotteed Dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
Fraser’s Dolphin (Legenodelphis hosei)
Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)
Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus)
Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are, together with Irrawaddy’s, the less nomadic among Palawan’s dolphins. Like them, they are tightly linked to coastal food resources and can often be seen near human settlements. But that is also the reason why they have become rare even in areas where were known to be common in the past. All over their range Bottlenose Dolphins have to compete with humans and are thus subjected to a very high pressure.
The calmed and rich waters of the outer Malampaya Sound are happily an exception to the rule. In Malampaya, where fisherfolks use traditional methods and human population is sparse, Bottlenose Dolphins can still enjoy a diverse and productive marine ecosystem.
The island of Palawan has very rich seagrass meadows which are comprised by up to 8 different species. The list include, among others, Halophila and Halodule spp, two pretty nutritious and low-fibre content species that are favourite forage for Dugongs (Dugong dugon).
Seagrass meadows cover significant areas both in the east and west coast of Taytay Municipality, providing excellent feeding grounds for Dugongs. Despite dugongs visit these sites regularly all throughout the year, they are extremely shy and sights are indeed quite rare.
Dugongs are perhaps the gentler among the gentle giants of the sea. They spend most of their time foraging tons of seagrass from the muddy sea bottom, oblivious to what goes on around them. Unfortunately, with their food source growing only in shallow waters are also frequented by humans, the slow, calm, and pacific giants are easy target for poachers and prone to collide with boats and be harmed by propellers.
In the past few years much of the attention has sadly focused on the Philippine Whale Sharks since some “whale watching” companies begun to feed them to attract tourists. This practise, while pretty effective to meet the demand of the most careless side of industry, modifies shark behaviour, stops migration, creates malnutrition and, at the end of the day, sends a wrong message to the public about what wildlife is.
Palawan Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) are still the magnificent nomads that used to be. They show up in the island waters just from time to time, during season, but that’s indeed what makes their sight such a unique and unforgettable experience. The period between May and July is the best time to spot these true giants of the sea in Palawan.