Local fisherman spotted several whales very near the shore in Barangay Pasaleng in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte last April 2. In fear that they were stranded in the area, they immediately alerted the authorities. The whales however were in no danger and they moved farther in the sea but close enough for the people to enjoy watching them dive and surface.After seeing the photos of the whales online, a team of humpback whale experts from Balyena.org, led by AG Saño, visited the area where the whales were sighted. The team conducted interviews with the residents of Barangay Pasaleng and found out that whales have been sighted yearly for decades, especially around Holy Week. The researchers were told that the locals heard stories about the whales from their parents. The fisherfolks themselves even hear whale songs and, at first, thought they were ghosts. They have developed a superstition that whales bring in more fish catch for the community.
According to Saño, whales come to the Philippines to give birth because of its warm waters. The documented whales in Pasaleng last April 2 consists of an adult male and female and one calf (baby whale) which they were probably training how to dive and breathe. Although when the residents first spotted the whales in March 31, they were able to count 10 whales in the area. The whales stayed in the vicinity for five days.
Because of the incredible size of humpback whales (they could reach up to 16 meters in length) and the over-protectiveness of nursing humpback whales, the researchers advised the locals not to get near them to avoid being injured by a flick of the whale’s fins or tail. Since the whales in Pasaleng can be seen by the naked eye from the shore, tourists can enjoy watching them even from the beach.
Balyena.org strives to identify each whale that passes in Philippine waters. Each fluke or tail of a humpback whale is distinct, like fingerprints in humans. When they compared the photos of the Pagudpud whale’s fluke with their catalog of other fluke photos, they were able to identify it from previous sightings in Babuyan Islands from the early 2000’s. Nicknamed “Lagarista”, the Pagudpud whale was last seen by the researchers in 2006.
With the discovery of this new area for whale sightings, Balyena.org plans to conduct regular whale research and conservation efforts in Ilocos Norte. (Alaric A. Yanos, PGIN-CMO)