Some of the best gifts I received from nature are sublime moments like gliding slowly with a pawikan or stalking a pack of sharks from a safe distance. There are still plenty of underwater encounters I’ve yet to tick off my list, but if there is one species I have always dreamed of seeing, it is the majestic humpback whale.
In the Philippines, humpback sightings are frequent in the Babuyan Channel in the northern Philippines from February to May. Some friends who have volunteered as researchers for Balyena.Org agree that there is absolutely nothing like hearing a humpback sing, or seeing this massive marine mammal breach from the depths of the sea.
When Lory Tan, my former boss, invited me to join a trip to Mabag island in the Babuyan Channel last June, I said yes and dropped everything. It was not the season for humpback whale sightings, but I took my chances anyway and hopped on an eight-seater plane with my colleague and dear friend Maia Melencio.
Mabag is a remote island whose entire expanse can easily be explored by foot. It belongs to smaller island cluster that comprises the Babuyan island chain.
My jaw dropped as soon as our plane landed on the thin airstrip; Mabag’s beauty is wild, raw, and untamed.
I still remember seeing the herds of cattle and horses running freely on the fields. I remember the panic I felt when Maia and I saw a group of horses charging towards us. Out of fear that we will be attacked, we hid behind limestone rocks that barely covered us. Okay, the horses were not probably going to attack us or kick us to death. Admittedly, I am not an expert on horse behavior, but if you see horses galloping towards you, your instinct will tell you to hide because running for your life is not an option. )
I remember seeing the tall waves crashing violently against the limestone cliffs that defined the island’s shoreline. This ecological process has gone on for millennia, I thought. I remember how humbled I felt while standing in the great wide open, on the island’s northwestern tip — imagining the humpback whales swimming hundreds of meters away, beneath the Babuyan Channel’s glorious sapphire waters.
I do not know when I will get the chance to return to Mabag, but I will always be thankful for this experience to touch the earth.