Malapascua Island is one of the world’s few places where divers can be almost guaranteed to see thresher sharks.
Every morning, these beautiful long-finned creatures make their way up from the dark depths of about 250m up to the relatively shallow 20 to 30 meters of Monad Shoal, a “cleaning station” where wrasses eat parasites off their skin.
Having heard the legends of this dive site, I was determined to make it to Malapascua Island. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy!
My starting point was my remote bamboo hut accommodation on Bohol, where I had to share a tricycle ride with two other backpackers. I was sitting crunched up on the motorcycle behind the driver, my head sticking out from beneath the roof, while my two other fellow passengers were in the side cart with a giant pile of our backpacks on their laps. From there it took a long bus ride and several ferries through the endlessly pouring rain.
Somehow we managed to cram inside this with 3 passengers, the driver, and 5 backpacks.
Finally I was one boat ride removed from the fabled Malapascua Island. Already soaked from top to toe, I got on a small lifeboat with about 15 other passengers. We were displacing so much water that I thought we were going to sink! As the waves sloshed over the edges I saw a puddle form inside, and I actually started swaying counter to the boat’s movement in a silly attempt to balance us out. Fortunately, we just about made it safely to the drop-off at the larger boat, and from there made our way to the island.
It was very stormy on Malapascua for a few days. Fortunately, it eventually cleared up
With everything closed and the weather interfering with the island’s satellite internet there was not much to do for several days but read some books. When the skies cleared up eventually, I could finally go shark diving. I have to say, it was definitely worth the wait.
We sat waiting at the bottom of the ocean for about 15 minutes. There was not much else to see besides rocks, and I almost thought were weren’t going to be lucky, until suddenly our dive master pointed ahead. I didn’t see anything at first, but then I could make out a shadow moving in the distance.
The silhouette became more defined as it gradually got closer…
Emerging from the dark was a large fish with an unusually long fin… our first thresher! Soon three more bogeys showed up on our radar, and they began curiously circling our position. Finally, a large 2.5m thresher made a pass right towards me, slowly swinging around just a meter in front of me, staring at me with its typical shark frown.
It was brilliant. Here I was at 30m depth looking a shark in the eye. When else are you going to have that close of an encounter with a wild animal? This particular type of shark also happens to be incredibly graceful, with its unusually long tail swaying back and forth behind its body. Recently it was discovered at this very dive site that thresher sharks use these tails to whip fishes into confusion before attacking their prey.
Watching these creatures was so awesome that I didn’t know what to do but to fist bump and high five my dive buddy. As the threshers continued to circle around us, adrenaline and excitement took over completely. I took a look at my oxygen gauge and noticed that it was dropping fast; clearly my excitement was making me a very inefficient breather, so about 10 minutes later it was unfortunately time to resurface again.
I should say that while exciting, there is nothing particularly daring about diving with these sharks. It isn’t Shark Week or Jaws! These fishes (especially the thresher variety) are a lot more peaceful than we give them credit for. You are statistically more likely to be crushed by a falling aircraft than to be attacked by a shark while Scuba diving. But it’s still, of course, a thrill to see such beautiful creatures up close with your own eyes.
On Malapascua Island diving
Malapascua Island is a diver’s paradise. I would rate it as ‘unmissable’ if you are a Scuba diver and travelling in the Philippines. Besides the Monad Shoal dive there are a number of other compelling dives in the area, such as Gato Island (which has a very cool cavern dive for advanced divers) and Lighthouse (where you can see the rare Mandarinfish — during a mating ritual if you are lucky). I dived with Thresher Shark Divers who struck me as very professional and organized.