Posted by: thewideblueyonder | December 18, 2008

Dolphins Save Palawan Fisherman

December 17, 2008
Redempto Anda, Philippine Daily Inquirer


PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — He needed a miracle to survive the cold and choppy waters, and he got it in the form of dolphins and whales.

Tuna fisherman Ronnie Dabal was fishing in Puerto Princesa Bay early on Dec. 8 when a squall turned his small motorized boat upside down. It was about 8 a.m.

He clambered atop a small Styrofoam board and battled the punishing waves for hours, growing desperate as the day wore on. How could he imagine then that he would survive in the most astonishing manner?

Dabal, 35, spoke with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Dec. 9 in the company of his wife and representatives of nongovernmental organizations who authenticated his story.

“I began to pray when I felt my strength draining away. I couldn’t continue paddling with my hands because I was getting so tired, and I was about to pass out,” he said.

The fisherman recalled floating at sea throughout that Monday, paddling against the tide in a vain effort to get to shore, and feeling his arms and legs growing soggy.

Soon, a swarm of tiny crustaceans locally called “bugto” began nibbling on his softened flesh.

“There were so many of them and I couldn’t cope because I was very weak,” he said, showing the bite marks on his limbs.

“I started to bleed. I became afraid that sharks would smell my blood and appear at any time.”

To the rescue

Dabal’s hopes of reaching dry land slowly vanished as darkness fell and blanketed him.

And then, from out of nowhere, a pod of around 30 dolphins appeared: “Dumating ‘yung mga dolphins. Ang dami nila!” [Dolphins came. There were so many of them!]

A pair of whales about 10 meters long also appeared and flanked him: “Tapos, may lumapit na dalawang balyena. Dun sila sa tigkabilang tabi ko lumalangoy.” [Then, two whales approached. They swam with me, one on each side.]

Dabal, a father of two, swore it was not his mind playing tricks on him as he lay weak and still atop his tiny life raft, which the dolphins alternately nudged with their fins to shore.

As this was happening, the rest of the pod stayed close, around a meter away, apparently trying to make sure no harm would come to him, Dabal said.

He said the whales kept to his side, swimming along with the dolphins.

“Based on his description of the animals, the dolphins were probably spinners and the whales were most likely pilot whales,” Dr. Terry Aquino, a local cetacean specialist, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Saved by his wards

Dabal said he passed out while the dolphins were performing their slow chore of nudging him toward land.

At dawn on Dec. 9, he came to on the beach of Luzviminda village, where the local folk came to his assistance.

Dabal’s unique experience is made more special by the fact that he is a deputized part-time dolphin warden.

He was trained by the Palawan NGO Network and ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan Foundation, which are helping the city government in promoting dolphin- and whale shark-watching as a tourist attraction in Puerto Princesa City.

The foundation’s Dr. Gerry Ortega described Dabal as “a warden and a spotter whom we tap to locate the presence of dolphins whenever there are guests on dolphin-watching tours.”

“He is also involved mainly in collecting garbage in the areas frequented by dolphins, to prevent the animals from eating these and being poisoned by the plastics floating around,” Ortega said.

Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn was so elated by Dabal’s experience that he promised to strengthen his administration’s support for the fishing folk who are helping promote dolphin and whale tourism through volunteer work as wardens and spotters.

“Ronnie’s experience is the greatest proof that what we are doing to protect our marine environment is worth all the effort that we are putting into it. I’d like to think this is the animals’ way of also thanking us for helping protect their habitat,” the mayor said.

Social creatures

Aquino said Dabal’s experience occurred in the very area where dolphin-watching tours were being held, and that it was possible that the fisherman’s “saviors” were the same dolphins seen there.

“There are at least three similar incidents that happened here in Palawan. But overall, these phenomena have not been studied, and the accounts are mostly narratives of the survivors,” she said, adding:

“Dolphins are very social creatures and they are known to be intelligent beings. Some scientists even believe they are capable of emotion.”

Aquino said Dabal could have been rescued by spinner dolphins, the type that like to show off their speed and grace in swimming.

* * *

In The Know: Dolphins to the rescue

On Oct. 30, 2004, a pod of dolphins saved a group of lifeguards from being mauled by a shark in New Zealand.

According to reports by the New Zealand Herald and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Rob Howes and three women lifeguards (who included his 15-year-old daughter) were on a training swim off Ocean Beach when seven bottlenose dolphins swam toward them and circled them.

When an opening in the circle occurred, Howes and one of the women drifted away from the group.

One large dolphin detached itself from the circle and dove a few meters away from them. Howes turned, waiting to see where the dolphin would surface.

That’s when he saw the three-meter-long great white shark.

Per Howes’ account, the shark started moving toward the two other women and the dolphins “went into hyperdrive.”

They herded the swimmers together, circling four to eight centimeters from them, and slapping the water with their tails for about 40 minutes.

The shark left when a rescue boat neared.


A pod of bottlenose dolphins also saved the life of a surfer in California, according to

On Aug. 28, 2007, Todd Endris was sitting on his surfboard at Marina State Park off Monterey when a great white, estimated at four to five meters long, hit him but failed to bite.

On its second try, the shark clamped down on Endris’ torso, peeling the skin off his back. It then tried to swallow his right leg, biting the limb to the bone.

Endris used his left leg to kick at the shark until it let go.

That’s when a pod of bottlenose dolphins showed up and circled him, protecting him from further attacks from the shark.

Endris got back on his board and caught a wave that brought him back to shore. He was able to surf again after nearly four months.

Marine mammals

Dolphins are marine mammals related to whales and can be found worldwide. They feed on fish, squid, crab, shrimp and lobster.

They are social creatures and tend to form long-lasting groups, which they depend on for hunting, defense and raising their young.


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