The MERMAIDS, Imaginary and Real, of SARANGANI BAY


At the southernmost tip of the main island Mindanao in the Philippines is a small sheltered body of water nearly enclosed from the Celebes Sea of the Pacific by a jutting peninsula. This is Sarangani Bay, from which the province of Sarangani, situated almost all along the bay’s coastline takes its name. The remaining shoreline not part of the province is occupied by General Santos, one of the country’s highly urbanized and independently-administered cities.

Both the city and the province have prospered and profited greatly from Sarangani Bay, with its sheltered enclosure serving as a natural harbor from where wharfs, fish ports and shipyards are built. Then there are the beaches, especially the white sand ones at the Gumasa area of the Sarangani municipality of Glan, which include magnificent diving sites featuring beautiful coral formations. Finally, the waters of the bay itself are a splendid habitat for sea life, making a livelihood for fishermen and commercial industries. Plenty of fish and other underwater creatures are wont to find sanctuary in the bay.

In fact, Sarangani Bay has also garnered its own amount of superstitious belief in just what sorts of sea creatures have either sought shelter or made a home down in the deeps. Like many coastal regions there have been sightings of what have been purported to be mermaids and similar beings found swimming in the waters of the bay. Perhaps the most recent event sighting took place in 2015 at the London Beach Resort of General Santos City, where beachgoers managed to take video footage of a creature with a prominent horizontal tail just barely visible in the shimmering water, swimming away from view. The video went viral on the internet and tourist numbers briefly ballooned for the resort during that time.

Even then, more reasonable minds could dismiss the fanciful notion of a mermaid showing up to be photographed by beach visitors. A more scientific reply by London Beach Resort staff and security personnel, who claim to have seen the creature in the water several times before, is that the “mermaid” was a dugong, a relative of the manatee or “sea cow”, the marine mammal long confused by ancient and classical mariners for mermaids. While the dugong, which was common in Philippine waters until the 1970s, has since been chased out of this habitat, it’s perfectly possible that some of their number from as far south as Australia may have wandered into the refuge of Sarangani Bay. So that’s one mystery most likely solved.

Speaking of exotic creatures however, it has been established that the bay makes for a good stopping point by many marine species which are migratory by nature. Dolphins have indeed been confirmed to show up from time to time. So too have larger mammals like sperm whales. The frequency of these gentle creatures dropping by at Sarangani Bay has been significant enough that some boat tours operating in the GenSan-Sarangani area have been making provisions for dolphin and whale watching in the waters since as early as 2010. While the reputation of Sarangani Bay as a marine mammal spotting point in the Philippines are not yet as established as the seas of Bohol and Negros Oriental in the Visayas up north, the presence is still there.

If you’re interested in taking a chance of seeing some migratory Risso’s dolphins, pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales in a new place, you can take a tour here in Sarangani Bay, easily reached from either Manila or Cebu City by air (Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific) or sea. For more information concerning the best time of the year when whales and dolphins are swimming along in the area, you may consult with the Sarangani Provincial Tourism Office at either (083) 508-5230 or, to speak with office head Larry E. Asparin.

Photo courtesy of

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