I do not really support animal tourism. I have friends who already tried swimming with these gentle giants and came back home with exciting stories. I’ve been to Cebu several times but I’ve never been attracted to it. The only reason I did this is because I want to witness/experience first-hand how they operate the whale shark watching activity in Oslob.
WHAT IS A WHALE SHARK?
Whales sharks, also known as butanding in the Philippines, are the largest fish in the world and are found in open waters of the tropical oceans. They are not whales, they are sharks. They could grow as large as 30 meters, according to WhaleFacts.Org. But despite its size, whale sharks does not pose any danger to humans.
These sharks don’t attack and tear apart their prey like most many of their relatives. While they are meat-loving carnivores, whale sharks are filter feeders, according to National Geographic. They open their mouths, let water come in and their bodies filter out food, and release the water and any debris back into the ocean. They feed on plankton and travel large distances to find enough food to sustain their huge size, and to reproduce.
In the Philippines, they used to be targeted for their meat and fins but by 1998, they gained national legal protection under the Republic Act No. 9147.
One of the places that you can swim with them is in Oslob. Since 2011, it has become a prime tourism destination in Cebu and every year thousands of local and foreign tourists flock to Tan-awan to experience swimming with these magnificent creatures. In fact, National Geographic dubbed Oslob as “home of the whale shark selfie” and sightings are guaranteed all year round.
DO’s AND DON’Ts
- You are REQUIRED to attend the orientation at the Briefing Center.
- Do not apply sunblock as it contain natural oils that leave a film on the surface where the whale sharks feed and can be contaminated.
- Do not jump from the boat as it might startle them.
- Do not touch/ride/chase the whale sharks.
- Swim at least 3-4 meters away.
- Flash photography is not permitted.
- Selfies sticks are not allowed.
- When you see a whale shark approaching you, do not panic. They’re harmless. Just try to swim away and do not block their way.
HOW MUCH DOES SWIMMING WITH THE WHALE SHARKS COSTS?
|Filipino Tourist||Whale shark watching |
(stay in the boat to watch)
|Filipino Tourist||Snorkeling with the Whale Sharks||₱500|
|Foreign Tourist||Snorkeling with the Whale Shaks||₱1000|
- It include boat ride, lifevest, goggles & snorkel (no fins)
- There’s an environmental /entrance fee of ₱ 100
- The activity is available daily from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM only, so be sure to get to the wharf before 6:00 AM.
- It is only good for 30 minutes only.
- You will be taken to the site by batch, usually 10 person per boat.
- Current conversion: ₱ 52.40 = 1 USD
I went to the wharf at around 5:00 AM and there were already tons of people waiting. I was lucky to arrive early enough and was assigned at the 3rd boat for that day. We were taken by a paddle boat (motorized aren’t allowed) going to the site. Once we got there we were told by the bankero (boatmen) to get in the water and wait. There were 5 whale sharks that showed up, 3 big ones and 2 youngins. The boatmen continued to feed the whale sharks so they’d stick around. By the time we were finished (it was around 7:30 AM) we headed back to the wharf, the line was longer and the whole scene was just chaotic.
Being able to swim with them is a once in a life time experience but the feeling is… It doesn’t feel natural. For me, it’s comparable to watching an Elephant doing a circus act. Or a tiger inside a cage in a zoo instead of observing them from a distance in the jungle. In Oslob, instead of intending to offer tourists an insight into the impact of human beings on the environment or animals and to foster a greater appreciation of their natural habitats the whale sharks are domesticated and are being lured near the coast by giving them food – which could pose a negative impact on their well-being.
How? They’re only being fed with shrimps thus they miss out on a lot of nutrients available to them in the wild. Imagine eating the same thing for the a long period of time. Like humans, they need a variety.
They have learned to associate food with boats and they immediately approach them to beg for food. They have grown so accustomed to the “feeder” boats that they are not afraid anymore, regardless if it’s paddled or motorized which can injure them. And what if they’ve decided to migrate? They might end up in being poached.
Also, whale sharks are migratory creatures meaning they need to go where there’s more food, where the climate is more suitable, and where they can find a suitable place to breed and raise their young. And feeding them disrupts their migration pattern.
Would I still swim with them? Yes, I would but certainly NOT IN OSLOB. Basically, because of some of tourists who wanted to get too close to the whale sharks just to get the perfect selfie. Orientations are being conducted, even informing us that touching the whale sharks can cause fines and even jailed but based on my experience, the rules are being overlooked. I would rather see them swim in their natural habitat.
SHOULD I SWIM WITH THEM?
I see no reason why you shouldn’t as long as rules and regulations are being enforced (and followed), strictly. There are other places where you can swim with them and I was told that Donsol, Sorsogon is a better option. I’ve read that it’s even supported by the World Wildlife Fund. The decision is up to you.
There are other things that you can do in Oslob aside from whale shark watching:
- Admire the majestic Tumalog Falls
- Explore Oslob’s history by visiting Oslob Heritage Park
- Swim and Relax at one of the secluded islands, Sumilon Iland.
- I’d suggest staying in Oslob the night before the whale shark watching activity as the queue is quite long. I went to the site at around 5:00 AM and I was at the 3rd boat for the day.
- Bring your own GoPro/underwater camera. They have cameras available for rent and the cost is ₱500 plus additional ₱50 for the CD.
- You can also purchase waterproof sleeves for your smartphones to use underwater.
- Only take what you need on the boat or better, just you and your swim wear (and your camera).
- There’s a nearby resort, Brumini Resert where you can rent a locker (you can keep your towel and change of clothes) for ₱110. You can also take a shower there.
- There are tons of restaurants around the area so you can have your breakfast there.
I wish I could say I had fun swimming with the whale sharks, seeing them up close is truly an experience I will not forget. However, how they operate in Oslob does not promote ecotourism. I wish they would be stricter when it comes to implementing the rules & guidelines and tourists should educate themselves prior to doing this activity. They should also learn how to follow the rules and not be selfish just for the sake of having a selfie.
WHERE TO STAY
Here is a list of various budget accommodations in Oslob Cebu. You may book your reservations via the links below. I recommend booking immediately to avail of their discounted rates.
- GUILLY’S PLACE
- CASA BONITA INN
- ISLET VIEW PENSION HOUSE
- MELRONZ INN
- GT SEASIDE INN
- SASCHA’S RESORT
For my recommended Oslob itinerary, budget estimation and how to get there please click the link below:
“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time and burn nothing but calories!”
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