It was 3:00 AM on June 26, 2015, and I was awake. Not just rolling in bed, yawning and dreaming kind of awake, but AWAKE awake. I hate waking up before 9AM, but this was a very special day. It’s the day I finally get to see a thresher shark at Malapascua.
Freshly certified as an Advanced Open Water Diver, I was getting ready to see my first shark.
Pardon the backstory but…
Backtracking a little bit, I started diving while working in the country’s biggest PR firm. It was a huge investment on my part because working in a local firm meant I was paid peanuts. 70-hour work weeks earned so little money that I end up spending everything on getting myself to work, and lots of alcohol. But even then, I love diving, and I was addicted, but going through the daily grind of agency work was T-O-U-G-H. I barely had time for anything. And when you live in the Philippines where every nook and cranny can be a dive spot, it was torture not being able to go diving as often as I can. Also, I can’t afford it.
After a tiring, exhausting, drop-dead four years, I filed my resignation and left by the end of May 2015. I wanted to take a long break, and I only had one goal in mind: see a thresher shark. I saved up my back pay and my savings fund, which got me farther than I expected, and I made my way to Cebu.
Finding the Thresher Sharks
Malapascua is a small island in the middle of the Visayan Sea. I got there via Cebu, wherein my favorite fake parents of all time (maybe I’ll talk about them some other time) took me in and brought me to some of the most amazing dive sites in the island. Here’s some detailed information on how to get to the island.
Off Malapuasca is a dive site called Monad Shoal, a place where thresher sharks pass by daily as a cleaning station before they go off wherever they are supposed to go. Yes, daily. It was one of the most exciting trips I’ve made so far in my diving life, but there are several catches before you get to go:
- The sharks are seen at 30 meters underwater. That means you need to be an Advanced Open Water diver under PADI, or the equivalent certification under NAUI and CMAS
- Because it’s so deep, oxygen is more compressed, and you end up using a lot of it. That means dive time is cut to just 30 minutes (where a 20-meter dive can last for an hour) unless you’re a Nitrox diver, which I am not
- It’s a 6-hour drive from Cebu City
- They show up at 5:00AM. After that, they continue their journey
Was it worth it? Hell, yes. YES, YES, YES!
Back to June, we arrived at Evolution Dive Resort on June 25, one day before the scheduled dive. It was a pretty resort, and also on the more expensive side. I remember paying around Php 1,500 for an overnight stay in a triple-sharing aircon room. You can search for more Malapascua resorts here.
We met up with a Dive Master Trainee named Julia and prepared our gear for the following day. We had lunch, a few drinks, and retired early to the room because, as I said, I had to be awake by 3:00AM.
At 3:00AM, I was up. By 4:00AM, we were on the boat. And at 5:00AM, we reached Monad Shoal.
Thresher Shark Encounter
It was extremely cold and extremely dark. It was a bit freaky for a new AOW diver like me – I had no problems during training, but there’s no telling what happens in real life. We descended slowly over a drop off at 10 meters and parked ourselves at a “viewing deck” with a rope fastened to the rock. I didn’t know what it was for at first until I felt the strong current washing me away. I held on to the rope, and then I waited.
Less than 5 minutes on the deck, I saw them.
Almost 6 feet in length, without measuring the tail, I saw my first shark, and I was in love. It was the most surreal feeling, holding on to the rope, and watching them slowly swim around. They were beautiful and majestic.
With my low-grade GoPro, I couldn’t take the clearest photos, so they almost look like tuna in my shots, but trust me, they are worth the trip.
He was beautiful. We were warned to stay away from its tail, which they whip to stun fish, so it’s powerful enough to stun people, too. They were gentle and didn’t mind the 30 or so divers underwater at all, and the divers didn’t attempt anything fishy or dangerous either. It was mutual respect, and it was beautiful.
30 minutes since entering the water, I hear dive computers beeping frantically. It was time to ascend. We made our way back slowly again, with me looking back every now and then until I couldn’t see the sharks anymore.
At our safety stop, we had one bonus baby eagle ray swimming by our boat anchor.
We ended our trip with just that one dive. Between the drive, the super early morning, all the dives in the previous days, and our sick driver, we just couldn’t get ourselves to make another one that afternoon.
The dive cost around Php 2,500, which was more expensive than the usual boat dive. I guess it was a special rate because of the time maybe the sanctuary fees, but it was definitely 30 minutes well worth it.