The Great Butanding: A Story of a Man and his Whale Shark Friend
Few months ago, a friend of mine visited a small island situated three hours away from the great city of Cebu, Philippines. I had no idea what he was visiting there until he sent me some pictures of him swimming with a shark. I gasped and looked at the pictures closely, and I can't be mistaken, the big fish looked familiar to me.
I heard about the famous BUTANDING (a local name for whale sharks in the Philippines), and how people from this country struggled to preserve their presence in the Philippine waters for such a long time. But browsing through my friend's pictures was the first time I had a closer look on these giant sea creatures. I can’t believe what I saw. I'm too sure I've already seen them before, sometime in my childhood, and that is what I’m going to share with you in this hub.
Allow me to mention just a brief background on Butandings or Whale Sharks before I start my own story. I will make it short though, since you can see a lot of information about this animal in several pages and even travel sites on the web.
Butandings are believed to have existed since 60 million years ago, and are now on a threatened condition. Known internationally as whale sharks, they are considered the largest extant fish species. The largest had a body size of 12.65 meters - about 41 feet in length, making it the largest fish in the world. Moreover, there are even larger whale sharks that have not been properly documented yet. Some can even match the size of the extinct dinosaurs.
Though they have the “shark” term in their name, the behavior of these animals is more a of a whale, than a shark. They pose no dangers to divers, or to anybody who wish to swim closer. In fact, I was amazed when I saw my bestfriend’s pictures. He was literally swimming with this friendly fish, enjoying that rare communion with nature. But that is not exactly what I would like to bring up in this article. I want to tell you the story behind my surprise upon seeing the animal that they referred to as the “friendly giant” in some captions.
I was 6 years old at that time, and I could still remember my mom preparing a grilled smoked- fish meat for breakfast. It was a yellow meat, and was very palatable, except for a not-so-pleasant smell. It was expensive, but some fishermen would gladly share it with us without any cost, in great respect to my grandfather who was once a fisherman like them.
However, I was wondering why my grandfather would turn his back each time he'd see his wife and his children including mom, and his grandchildren including me, eat that meat. I learned from my mom years later that my grandfather disapproved all sea activities that could kill these kinds of fishes, but she kept mum about the true reason until later when grandpa died.
Stories had spread that during Grandpa’s prime years, he almost died in sea storms a number of times, if not for a giant fish which would always come and save him. Mom had also recounted seeing the same fish one fateful night when they were caught by a big storm in the middle of the sea. They were sailing towards Camiguin Island, the hometown of my grandfather.
She said, she was thirteen when she first saw what the people were referring to as Lolo’s best friend. She had clearly described how my grandfather asked everyone in the boat to step out into a giant fish, while quickly draining out all the water from the sinking boat which could bring them down into the deep, if the fish had not arrived. When I asked her how it looked like, she would then willingly sketch the fish in a piece of paper. That gave me enough background of my grandfather’s mystic friend. In fact, those white spots had an enchanting effect on me, as I grew up.
After seeing the Butanding in my friend’s pictures, I realized that this was the fish in my mom’s sketches. It dawned on me that the story was indeed true, and that the fish for a friend was not a mystic creature after all, nor an imaginary friend. It existed.
I asked myself a lot of times why didn’t they (the firshermen) listen to Grandpa? Maybe Grandpa had a feeling they wouldn’t believe in him, and would rather call him crazy. If only he had been so insistent, nothing could have happened to those friendly whale sharks in our area.
When I recall eating the meat, I couldn’t help but feel nauseated. I felt like I ate one of the humans, guilt wraps me up even up to this very moment that I am writing this hub. I am deeply saddened knowing that I used to be one of those cruel butanding meat-eaters. I feel sick remembering the past, and I hate people who still continue eating Butanding's meat, and killing these fishes for a living. Mind you, the sea is wide enough to find some other foods to eat, and definitely Butandings should not be one of these foods. Instead, they deserve appreciation and gratitude. Their existence is a blessing, a wonderful reminder of God's presence.
Fortunately, the last time I visited my hometown and the nearest island, there were no more whale shark trading, nor pieces of meat sold in the town market. I thank the government for their efforts of saving the family of a fish that at one point saved my grandfather and my mother’s life. I will be forever indebted to these friendly giants.
I am just hoping that these fishermen had stopped killing butandings not because it was already declared illegal, but because they realized that these fishes can also be their savior, if time calls. Hopefully, they have realized that killing these animals would be like killing a good friend.
If you want to witness this phenomenon by yourself, read the link below leading to my other hub which offers details on how to get there.