Screenshots from video of Ronie Mercado.

Ronie Mercado, a fisherman from Puerto Princesa City, did not expect that when he set out into the bay on June 24 around 9 a.m. to fish for skipjack tuna, he would encounter five Orca whales in the waters near Barangay Inagawan.

He initially thought they were dolphins, which he often sees in the city bay. However, he realized they were Orca or killer whales because of the white patch near their eyes

“Nadaanan ko sila, akala ko dolphin kasi marami na akong nakita na mga dolphin dito, yong mga malalaki na klase, at yong iba nauuna yong mga buntot,” he told Palawan News in an interview on Thursday. 

“Pero noong nasa likuran nila ako, nakita ko at naisip na may mga puti sila sa may mata. Ang sabi ko Orca sila kasi nakikita ko sa Youtube sa National Geographic. First time ko maka-engkwentro ng ganoon,” Ronie stated, recalling that there was no rain and the sea was calm that Monday morning.

Ronie’s knowledge of the wildlife species found in Puerto Princesa Bay was not without reason. He stated that he was once a member of a group backed by the late broadcast journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega, as well as former environment secretary Gina Lopez, to raise awareness about their conservation.

Ronnie, who has been catching fish in the bay for over 20 years, is aware of the presence of whale sharks, dolphins, and stingrays in the vicinity, but he never expected to see Orca whales. 

Orcas have been known to target boats, but such events are uncommon, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their intellect and curiosity can lead to situations in which they unwittingly destroy vessels, despite the fact that they pose no direct threat to humans.

Ronie understood this about the Orcas, which was why he exercised caution and maintained a safe distance while sailing behind them. 

In his video, two Orca whales can be seen swimming under his boat, playfully curious about it.

“Sinundan ko sila, di ko sila ginulo sa paglangoy nila. Nakasunod lang ako sa kanila, pero hindi rin naman sila agresibo. Lumapit sa akin yong dalawa, ang isa maliit at ang isa malaki, parang akala mo naglalaro lang sila,” he said. 

“Sabi sa akin noon ni Doc Gerry, kapag nakikita sila, dapat hindi hinaharangan ang daan nila. Bale dapat nakasunod ka lang,” he added. 

He observed the Orca pod for about four minutes before they disappeared from his sight. Ronie noted that he came back on June 25 hoping to spot them again, but they were already nowhere to be found.

Marine wildlife expert Dr. Teri Quino confirmed that it was indeed Orca whales that Ronie captured in his video, identified by the white patch on the sides of their faces and the silver saddle on the backs of their dorsal fins.

“It’s  been reported years ago by fishers, but no video like this. First record of sighting in the country was just south of Cagayancillo by Louella Dolar. Also sighted before in Dumaran Strait and Balabac in Palawan. Other places in country also have sightings,” Dr. Aquino said. 

Dr. Aquino said that the eastern part of Puerto Princesa City, including the bay, serves as a feeding ground and migration path for cetaceans. This area is also known for dolphin watching activities, although most tours do not venture too far south as it is quite a distance.

She said people should appreciate the sighting for what it is. “A spectacular event, a sign that our sea is still productive, and that we should do our part to keep it that way.” 

“We’re blessed in Palawan to have a rich biodiversity. We should respect it, recognize what it needs to thrive, and play our part in ensuring it stays healthy,” she added. 

Orca whales are confronted with various challenges, including the deterioration of their habitat, pollution, climate change, and disruption caused by human activities such as boat traffic and noise.