Last Wild Place’s Exploration at Camiguin Island – Las Islas Babuyanes

Rough Toothed Dolphins at Babuyan Islands - Camiguin

NOTE: This is a guest post from Last Wild Place.

 

Isolated, volcanic and blustery, the Babuyan Islands have remained as an unfilled travel destination for many. With its 5 islands of raw coastlines, rampant vegetation and robust seas, the islands offer an immense and remote playground for an expedition like no other.

My expectations for Las Islas Babuyanes are very high, as I have dreamt of exploring the area for a long time. We will be visiting 3 islands in the volcanic chain starting with Camiguin Island, which lie closest to the mainland. After 4 hours on the boat, I see the outline of twin volcanic peaks and a solid wall of rock cliffs standing as sentinels guarding the islands flanks greets us. We land in the small town which is non descript but surprisingly has power lines supplying a half days worth of electricity each day since 2011.

We are in Camiguin for only one thing: to see the calving grounds of the Humpback Whales. The whales come from the icy Northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean to the warm, protected waters of Camiguin to calve their young. We set off on our boats with binoculars, spotters and long lens cameras in search of the leviathans. The sea is incredibly calm without a breath of air when we chance upon a pod of Pilot Whales logging in the surface. Excitedly, we quietly slip into the blue water with our snorkels and attempt to swim closer. Each time we get close they move just far enough to escape our gaze. The Pilots are toying with us and we clearly hear their distinctive sonar squeaks as if the joke is on us. Imagine, here we are in deep, crystal clear waters swimming with wild Pilot Whales  – the privilege of being there doesn’t escape me and I am grateful for this chance.

Rough Toothed Dolphins at Babuyan Islands - Camiguin

 

The Pilot Whales were a nice bonus but we came for the Humpbacks. Another day and we soldier on to search for them. The sea is rougher this time around and we search for tell tale signs of a waterspout. Our spotter rings the alarm and we see a school of dolphins. Upon closer inspection, these dolphins have reddish undersides and have rough skin on its belly. I’ve seen dolphins before but these are exhibiting strange behavior – repeated head slaps and tail slaps on the surface as if trying to get rid of annoying parasites. They also seem to be staying around, circling our boats and are not annoyed. We later find out that they are Rough Toothed Dolphins, which are rarely seen in Philippine waters. Encounters like these are common in Camiguin as there are 8 cetacean species that can be found with regularity.  The friendly behavior of the dolphins & whales can also be attributed to the remoteness of the area and the rules of engagement that we followed in approaching them. Our boats never harassed them, we made every effort to approach from behind and cut off the engines when we got close. We were rewarded with an unfettered encounter that lasted an eternity. Unfortunately, we never saw the Humpbacks as we were warned that the season for watching them was at an end.

Historically, the bay of Camiguin has been used for sheltering ships during stormy seas. After doing research, the area had been used as an anchorage by the Americans and the Japanese in World War 2.  There were at least 3 Japanese wrecks in the bay that we wanted to dive and investigate. Our local fishing guides had told us that salvagers had broken the 2 wrecks and that a single wreck was still diveable. 70 feet of endless water gives way to the outline of a ghostly wreck as she slowly reveals herself.  We approach the ship that is lying at her side and go for the stern. It’s clear that the long arms of salvagers have ravaged her superstructure. We are left looking at the scraps and the skeletal remains are quite clear. I pass through the mid-section and see the engine room with huge steam boilers still encased in the bowels.  It is still an impressive wreck, which we estimate to be at least 200 feet long. I later find out that there could be over 30 undocumented old wrecks around the island. One of these wrecks is of the USS Charleston, which sank in 1899 during the Spanish-American War.  There is a of of history in these waters and can potentially be a wreck diving destination in the future.

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