An experience of a lifetime!
As a child, I always wanted to learn how to swim and play with dolphins in the sea. I used to envy those actors in movies, trainers, and marine biologists who get to encounter these wonderful buddies.
February 1, 2014. This was the day I've been waiting for all my life. I did my research and looked for attractions where we could get close encounter with dolphins. Ocean Adventure in Subic offers such experience but at a high price.
The place where we got our dream come true was far from Manila - in Northern Mindanao. Yes, we had to pay for airfare, lodging, meals, and other contingencies but it was still reasonable compared to Subic. We even had the chance to go on a side trip to Iligan to see the Tourism Triangle: Maria Cristina Falls, Tinago Falls, and Mimbalut Falls. We can truly say this was worth the trip.
Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP) located close to the border of Tudela and Sinacaban offers dolphin encounter. The dolphins here are not the bottlenose dolphins most of us are familiar with. These species are called spotted dolphins.
Spotted dolphins are of two types: atlantic spotted dolphin and the pantropical spotted dolphin. The former can only be found in the Atlantic Ocean while the latter is found in all temperate and tropical oceans and the star that is featured in this blog post.
We arrived at MOAP a little past 5pm on Day 1 of our adventure. We checked-in for the night and dined at their restaurant located at the end of the walkway out to the sea. The next day, we were already up at 5:30am, too excited to sleep. We couldn't wait to finally see the dolphins.
|Our ride to Dolphin Island from MOAP|
The dolphin attraction is set at Dolphin Island, farther off to the Iligan Bay and can only be reached by pumpboat. Travel time was about 30 minutes. Entrance to the Dolphin Island is Php350/head including boat transfers. We were the only tourists at that time so we decided to pay for a special trip instead of wating and hoping for other tourists to come. The boat can accommodate 10 tourists. Since we're paying for the 8 vacant seats (Php40/each), we paid a total of Php1,020 (our entrance of Php600 + Php320 for 8 vacant seats at 40.00 each). Swim with the dolphins was an additional Php300/head and Php150/kilo of fish for the dolphins.
Upon docking, we walked our way to the dolphin pen and voila! I couldn't contain myself the moment I set eyes upon these adorable creatures! =) They even tilted their head to one side to see who were these funny-looking newcomers. The excitement brought out the child in me - I was smiling and giggling like a fool.
We had to wait while Kuya Dario and Jay-R, our tour guides, prepared the fish (feed) for the dolphins. To keep myself from pacing to and fro, June and I explored the other end of the Dolphin Island. There was an unfinished construction in the farther part of the island. It was not actually an island with shrubs and trees. The entire place was like a sandbar visible only during low tide.
Here it goes! =) Listen to their voices ^_^
We never ever planned to have a dolphin encounter without taking souvenir photos and videos. We didn't have a waterproof camera but waterproof pouches for our digicam and cellphones came in handy at times like this. =)
If you remember there was a time when a certain species of dolphin was threatened caused by tuna fishing. The pantropical spotted dolphins are well known for their tendency to associate with schools of tuna. They swim with yellowfin tuna for reasons that until now are unknown to man. Their association with tuna led them to being trapped in tuna purse seines during fishing. In the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of dolphins and tuna are being captured altogether. Over the period of 25 years, this led to more than half of the pantropical spotted dolphin's entire population being wiped out. This caused public outrage that led to conservation acts. It was in 1980s when the implementation and support to "dolphin-friendly" tuna capture methods saved millions of pantropical spotted dolphins in the Pacific Ocean. Right now, it is one of the most abundant dolphin species in the world. Manufacturers of canned tuna boast their dolphin-friendly method of fishing by placing a "dolphin-friendly" seal in their cans.
The Philippines is one of the countries monitored by Earth Island Institute to ensure dolphin-friendly methods of fishing are strictly implemented. Earth Island Institute with its International Monitoring Program established in 1990 monitors the catches and shipments of tuna around the world. Based on the Dolphin Safe Agreement with companies of tuna canneries, fleets, exporters, and importers, Earth Island Institute's international monitors have access to ports, storage facilities, fishing vessels, transport vessels, and canneries to inspect the tuna catches and to make sure these companies abide by the policies of Dolphin Safe Agreement.
|Dolphin-friendly and dolphin-safe seals stamped in tuna cans of different countries|
As of 2007, Earth Island Institute succeeded in closing more than 90% of the world's dolphin-deadly tuna markets. Also with the help of Earth Island Institute, more than 30 countries and more than 300 companies made progress in adopting dolphin-safe fishing policies.
Here at MOAP, the pantropical spotted dolphins were those accidentally caught by fishermen and surrendered to them for attraction and educational purposes. They are not trained dolphins. Meaning they won't do tricks for visitors or give them kisses. They didn't even let us come so close to them. This is why we needed fish to feed them so that they would come closer to us. We didn't chase after them because we didn't want to stress them out. We only let them swam around us and near us. We did try to touch them for brief moments as they got their food from our hand.
Our tour guides were Kuya Dario and Jay-R. Kuya Dario also volunteered to be our photographer while Jay-R was with us at the pool during the entire time and when we went off to snorkel. They are very friendly and accommodating.
For those who may be wondering if these creatures are abused or deprived of their natural habitat, we won't stop you from giving your opinions. We were told that there were about 5 or 6 dolphins years ago until some where released to the open sea.
After our ambitious dolphin experience, we set off to snorkel near the Dolphin Island.
|Red Sniper (locally known as Maya-Maya)|
|Clown Fish (Nemo!!!)|
Aside from the dolphin encounter, another achievement which made this trip more memorable was that we snorkeled without wearing life vests. We were used to wearing life vests when we're at sea. I think it's more of psychological fear than actual safety. LOL
It was fun because I personally felt more comfortable and free to move about.
MOAP offers accommodation for group tours. We got ours at Php1,500/night. It was originally Php2,500/night for 6pax. There were only two of us so they gave us a discounted rate.There are no food chains in the area so we settled to dine at their restaurant. Their food tasted great.
|MOAP Restaurant at the end of the walkway|
|Our temporary home at MOAP|
Before we set off for Sunrise Beach Resort in Baliangao, we met Foad Akhavan, the owner of MOAP and manager at Dolphin Island. He's the man behind the development at Dolphin Island and he shared his thoughts and plans to us. Hopefully he can achieve them all if the government would only support his ideas.
Setting up attractions and projects in Mindanao usually draws prejudice that it is not safe to travel to the region, making it not easy to get attention from tourists. Mindanao is a big area that has much to offer to travelers. We are not daring you to go get your adventure anywhere here. Our point is for tourists and travelers to give Mindanao a chance to showcase the beauty of this province. On your next travel, choose Mindanao. At least start with the place that you feel most comfortable to be at.
How to go to Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park from Ozamiz City
Head to the Integrated Bus and Jeepney Terminal in Ozamiz City. It is just about 20 minutes from Labo Airport. Ride a bus bound to Dipolog and get off at Tudela. Remind the conductor that you will get off near MOAP. There are signages along the road. Travel time is 30 - 40 minutes at Php10/head. From the road, you can walk your way to MOAP.
To go back to Ozamiz, just go back to the main road and cross to the other side of the road. Hail a bus bound for Ozamiz or Cagayan de Oro and get off at the Integrated Bus and Jeepney Terminal.
For the details of this adventure, check out our 4-Day Misamis Occidental - Lanao del Norte Itinerary further below (Ozamiz - Iligan)
Part 4: Swimming With Dolphins in Misamis Occidental
View Misamis Occidental - Lanao del Norte in a larger map
11:40 AM ~ headed to Buru-un by jeepney (Php8/head)
Day 2 February 1, Saturday
6:00 AM ~ checked out at Royal Gardens
6:30 AM ~ arrived at Labo Airport
8:00 AM ~ departed back to Manila
Budget allotted was Php 10,000.00 at Php 5,000 per head excluding airfare
Expense breakdown (excluding airfare):
Php 8.00/head Jeepney to Brgy. Buru-un
Php 10.00/head Tinago Falls entrance (Php20/head if you want to take a in the cool waters)
Php 505.00 Figures are sum total of all meals at Royal Garden, good for 2 pax (lunch and dinner)
Php 60.00/head Royal Garden Hotel to Labo Airport by trike (try to negotiate)