I’m not a big fan of animal tourism. Friends of mine have previously tried swimming with these gentle giants and returned home with wonderful experiences. I’ve been to Cebu multiple times, but it has never piqued my interest. The only reason I did this was to see/experience firsthand how the whale shark watching activity in Oslob is run.
What is a Whale Shark?
Whale sharks, also known as butanding in the Philippines, are the world’s biggest fish and can be found in the open seas of tropical oceans. They are not whales, but sharks. According to WhaleFacts.Org, they can grow to be as tall as 30 meters. Despite their size, whale sharks pose no threat to people.
Unlike many of their cousins, these sharks do not attack and tear apart their prey. According to National Geographic, whale sharks are filter feeders rather than carnivorous predators. They open their lips, allow water to enter, filter out food, and then release the water and any debris back into the ocean. They eat plankton and travel long distances to get enough food to sustain their massive size and reproduce.
They were once targeted for their meat and fins in the Philippines, but by 1998, they had gained national legal protection under Republic Act No. 9147.
Oslob is one of the destinations where you can swim with them. Since 2011, it has been a popular tourist attraction in Cebu, with thousands of local and international visitors flocking to Tan-awan each year to swim with these majestic creatures. Indeed, National Geographic has called Oslob the “home of the whale shark selfie,” and sightings are guaranteed all year.
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 It Cost To Swim With Whale Sharks?
|Filipino Tourist||Whale shark watching |
(stay in the boat to watch)
|Filipino Tourist||Snorkeling with the Whale Sharks||500 PHP|
|Foreign Tourist||Snorkeling with the Whale Shaks||1000 PHP|
- It include boat ride, lifevest, goggles & snorkel (no fins)
- There’s an environmental /entrance fee of 100 PHP
- 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: 50.76 PHP = 1 USD
Swimming with them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the emotion is… It doesn’t feel right. It’s like seeing an elephant do a circus show for me. Or a tiger in a cage at a zoo, rather than observing them from afar in the jungle. Instead of offering tourists an insight into the impact of humans on the environment or animals, and to foster a greater appreciation of their natural habitats, the whale sharks in Oslob are domesticated and are being lured near the coast by giving them food, which may have a negative impact on their well-being.
How? They’re exclusively fed shrimp, so they’re missing out on a lot of nutrients that would be accessible to them in the wild. Consider eating the same food over an extended length of time. They, like us, require variation.
They have learned to associate food with boats and approach them immediately to beg for food. They have become so accustomed to the “feeder” boats that they are no longer terrified of them, regardless of whether they are paddled or propelled, which might injure them. What if they’ve chosen to relocate? They might end up getting poached.
Furthermore, whale sharks are migratory creatures, which means they need to migrate where there is more food, where the environment is more suitable, and where they can reproduce and raise their young. Also, feeding them disrupts their migratory pattern.
Would I still swim with them?
Yes, but definitely NOT IN OSLOB. Basically, because some people tried to get too near to the whale sharks in order to take the perfect selfie. Orientations are being held, even advising us that touching the whale sharks might result in fines and even imprisonment, but in my experience, the rules are being ignored. I’d rather watch them swimming in their natural habitat.
Should I Swim with the Whale Sharks?
I don’t see why you shouldn’t, as long as laws and regulations are firmly enforced (and obeyed). There are other sites where you may swim with them, and I’ve heard that Donsol, Sorsogon is a better choice. According to what I’ve read, it’s even endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund. It is entirely up to you to make this choice.
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 PHP plus additional 50 PHP 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 PHP. 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 a good time swimming with the whale sharks, but seeing them up close is an experience I’ll never forget. However, the manner in which they operate in Oslob does not promote ecotourism. I wish they were stricter in enforcing the rules and guidelines, and tourists should educate themselves before engaging in this activity. They should also learn to respect the rules and not be selfish just for the sake of having a selfie.
Where To Stay
Here is a list of more affordable places to stay in Oslob, Cebu. Reservations can be made using the links provided below. I recommend making your reservation as early as possible to take advantage 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 check out:
THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO OSLOB, CEBU