Shark Diving off Malapascua Island


April and May mean summer vacation here in the Philippines therefore adventures are abounding, families are traveling, and I am no exception…

This past weekend I visited Malapascua Island, a 2.5 square km island just north of Cebu known throughout the world for its regular thresher shark sightings. Thresher sharks (Alopias vulpinus) are nocturnal and generally live at depths of 200-300m. They are roughly 4-5m in size and are easily identified by their very long tail and large eye. At sunrise each morning these sharks come up from the depths to meet cleaning wrasse, small fish, which remove parasites from the shark’s body. Therefore, at 5am our dive boat set out for Monad Shoal dive site, the cleaning station of choice for local thresher sharks.

Sunrise SCUBA diving
Sunrise SCUBA diving
The thresher sharks and cleaning wrasse meet at a depth of about 80ft where a large rock ledge forms a table for cleaning, before the threshers descend back to the depths to avoid the intensity of daylight sun. Kneeling on the rubble ground, as thresher sharks swam by was incredible!

Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
“People come to Malapascua to see thresher sharks, but what they remember is Gato Island.” So we were told upon arrival by our divemaster. After visiting Gato Island myself, I completely agree!!! This site current ranks as the best dive of my life, thanks to Wilbert our expert divemaster. Here is a quick list of some of the most exciting discoveries on this dive. (I suggest you google any animal you haven’t heard of before because some are so unusual you’ll be wondering how they ever came to be in the first place)

• Cuttlefish – related to an octopus and can change color instantly
• Nudibranches – sea slugs that breath through hair-like gills streaming from their backs
• Whitetip reef sharks – we saw one swimming towards us as we came out the other side of an underwater tunnel
• Pygmy seahorses – the size of your fingernail when full grown
• Ornate ghost pipefish – related to the seahorse but extremely fragile
• Skeleton shrimp – transparent tiny shrimp
• Frogfish – camouflage so well that even though our guide pointed right at it, it a game of underwater charades for me to understand what I was looking at
• Spiny devilfish – I almost placed my hand right on top of this guy because of his incredible camouflage, luckily I didn’t because he has venom in his dorsal spine
• And even more!!!

Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.
Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.

Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitecap reef sharks swam past!
Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitetip reef sharks swam past!
My next summertime adventure is planned for early May when I will be attending a 3-day workshop on seahorses.


2 thoughts on “Shark Diving off Malapascua Island”

  1. Wow, what a memorable dive!!
    Having a dive master that can spot everything makes for the best dive. For me, after diving in Utila in December I have really come to appreciate the tiniest of creatures, since so often we rate a dive as awesome because we see something BIG like a shark or turtle or stingray. But tiny creatures like that pygmy seahorse are super cool and unique too.

    I just looked up pictures of all those crazy creatures.
    Thresher sharks have such big eyes! Their faces look almost cute and cartoon-like.
    Cuttlefish and nudibranchs would be amazing to see. Such incredible patterns and colors.
    Skeleton shrimp look like evil aliens. They give me the heeby-jeebies haha.

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