Whale Sharks have been a regular sighting for fishermen on the seas of Oslob for several decades. These huge mammals like to travel with their family in search of food. The channel of water right by Cebu just so happens to be a part of their regular feeding route. It is said that one tourist was taken on a boat to see the Whale Sharks and he really liked the experience. It was he who suggested that swimming with these creatures should be developed into a tourist attraction.
At first, it started with locals freelancing to ferry guests to the water. When demand rose and the activity became more popular, the government stepped in to make everything organized and ensure the safety of the guests. In turn, they also collected fees to grow the town’s treasury so that all residents of Oslob can benefit from it.
The start of each day in Oslob now features vans and cars whizzing through the road bringing tourists to go swimming with the Whale Sharks. The visitors arrive early since the Whale Sharks are only available for viewing only until 12 noon. So why is it a good idea to check them out? Let’s get into the reasons.
1. It’s very accessible. Cebu has an international airport with direct flights to many cities in Asia. From Cebu City, it takes less than 3 hours to get to Oslob if you travel early to avoid the traffic. After grabbing a meal, you can go straight to the Whale Shark watching area. One would think that you need to be on a ship and be in the ocean to see these animals. In Oslob, all you need is a small boat. The patch of sea where you get to meet the Whale Sharks is only 150 feet away from the shore. You won’t have to sail too far and spend a lot of your time traveling in order to swim with them.
2. You can take epic photos. Have you seen some of the pictures taken in Oslob? Here’s what I’m talking about:
When you visit the Whale Sharks, you get the opportunity to take these types of photos with you in them. Those would surely leave your friends and family in awe.
3. It’s a memorable experience. Swimming with Whale Sharks is one of the most unique things that you can do. To be able to get beside such gigantic creatures feels like a dream. In one instance, the Whale Shark came towards me with an open mouth. It was so big that it could easily fit a handful of people in one go. I went and swam under the boat towards the other side to make sure I could avoid it. Swimming so close to such a huge mammal is an experience that’s hard to forget. Don’t worry, they don’t bite and they move very slowly so you can anticipate whenever one gets near you. Here’s a video of our trip:
4. You’re guaranteed to see the Whale Sharks. They show up the whole year round. Your time, money and effort won’t feel like a waste when you’re able to see what you came here for. The Whale Sharks will be there almost 100% of the time. The only exception is when the weather is bad and it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to the sea.
5. The tour is affordable. It also doesn’t cost a fortune to have this experience. We want to welcome everyone so it is priced so that the average person will be able to afford it.
6. You’re conserving the Whale Sharks. Whale Sharks and the people of Oslob have a symbiotic relationship. The people feed the Whale Sharks and the latter enables a tourism economy for the former. It wasn’t always like this. In the past, the Whale Sharks were seen as just another sea creature. Fishermen who were busy out at sea didn’t pay them much attention. Later on, the Whale Sharks got caught in the crosshairs of human expansion. They were hunted for their meat, oil, and fins. This contributed to their numbers rapidly dwindling thereby pushing them to the brink of extinction.
Other factors such as pollution and shipping operations may have played contributed in their decline as well. Lots of trash can now be found floating in the oceans.
There have been several reports of dead Whale Sharks washing ashore. After examining their cadavers, it was found that several kilos of trash was in their stomach which has most likely caused their death. Microplastics have been found in many samples of salt. If garbage can somehow find its way to human food then you can be sure that it has become part of the diet of creatures in the sea. Many ships go through shipping lanes in both international and local waters delivering goods and transporting people each day. They could potentially run into a school of Whale Sharks causing severe injury. In some instances, Whale Sharks are caught in fishing nets as by-catch.
By being a major part of the tourism economy, the locals are incentivized to keep the Whale Sharks safe. They are given a constant supply of food so that they don’t have to scour the ocean for krill that’s potentially mixed with garbage. Will they lose their ability to hunt on their own? That’s quite unlikely. Finding food is part of their instinct. It has been imprinted in their brain after millions of years of evolution. Imagine how likely it is that a Lion would forget how to hunt food. With regard to the Whale Sharks’ migration routes, that’s been pre-programmed as well - just as Birds are able to find their way to feeding and nesting grounds. Whale Sharks, Lions, and Birds don’t need to read a manual on how to survive in the wild. They just know.
In essence, the Whale Shark tours are like having an open zoo. The animals are there to be seen by the people but they are free to go after the show is over. The main motivation for this may be for economic reasons but one cannot deny the impact it has on the conservation of Whale Sharks.
Land animals such as Pandas, Eagles and Tigers have been known to be held captive in order to conserve them and protect them from hunters. The natural environment where they once thrived is simply not the same anymore. That is why there are fewer of them now.
Their economic contribution incentivizes humans to nurture them. At the end of the day, it is a win-win situation.
7. It helps the local community. How much has Oslob changed since the tourism boom? Oslob used to be driven by the fishing and agriculture industry. Like many other places in the Philippines, a lot of the money going around came from abroad via Overseas Filipino Workers.
Whale Shark watching has totally changed the outlook of the whole area. Oslob became a popular destination and got featured in several media articles both online and offline. Tourists got to know about Oslob first before other neighboring towns. It has put Oslob on the map, so to speak.
Buses going to Oslob used to be composed purely of locals. These days, there is usually one or two groups of foreigners on board during each trip. Lodges, hostels, hotels, and inns have sprouted everywhere. You could hardly travel a kilometer without seeing one. 7-11 is now in town too. New restaurants have opened offering both local and western cuisine. Undoubtedly, tourism has made an impact of increasing the income of the locals. The government now also has more money to spend on infrastructure and public services. Whale Shark watching has also put a spotlight on other tourist destinations in the area.
8. You can bring your friends along. A trip is infinitely more fun when your friends are there. Swimming with Whale Sharks is an activity that you can enjoy with the whole gang no more how many you are. As Barney Stinson would say, it’s not legendary if your friends don’t know about it.
9. It’s an opportunity to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. You’ve been working hard and thinking about ideas for your next vacation. What better way to spend your days off than by going to a tropical island and having a close encounter with a creature that’s hard to find anywhere else.
10. You’ll meet the largest fish in the world. The Whale Shark (scientific name: Rhincodon Typhus), is neither a whale or a shark. It is actually a fish. In fact, it is the biggest living fish on Earth! It feeds largely on Krill - a small type of shrimp found in many parts of the world. They travel on a circuit around countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia searching for food to feed their huge bodies. It is kind of ironic how such a huge creature only eats very small marine animals. The Whale Shark is a filter feeder. This means that it feeds by opening its big mouth and swallowing sea water in front along with any food nearby. The food will then go to their stomach for digestion and any excess water is released.
Whale Sharks need to consume about 10 kilos of food each day to sustain themselves. They spend about 5 hours each day feeding before they go back to their homes in the depths of the sea. They are said to be living in underwater caves offshore. These caves are located at the edge of Cebu island where the elevated piece of land ends and the deep sea begins. This is the part of the island exhibiting a sudden precipitous change in the depth of the sea.
An adult Whale Shark can run up to 10m in length - almost as long as a passenger bus. In Oslob you’ll find Whale Sharks with varying sizes so you can compare how big the young ones are to the adults.
11. Bonus: Other amazing destinations are right around the corner!
Sumilon Island. It is located off the coast of Tan-awan in Oslob. It is a 15-minute boat ride away from the Whale Shark watching area. Sumilon is a rocky island surrounded by clear waters which are ideal for swimming. During the low tide, a nice strip of the sand bar gets exposed and is perfect for taking beach photos.
Oslob Town. The busiest part of town outside the Whale Shark watching area is called Poblacion. Here you can buy some local goods from the market. There are several restaurants where you can dine as well. The seaside park features historical relics such as an old church and an unfinished military barracks built by the Spanish colonizers just before the start of the Spanish-American war.
Aguinid Falls. It is a waterfall featuring several levels of cascades. Each one requires varying degrees of effort to go through. Guides are a must in order to traverse this waterfall.
Kawasan Falls. A bit farther from the main road compared to Aguinid, it’s easier to go on your own here. The falls are higher which lead to a bigger and deeper pool at its base. This combination is perfect for swimming and taking amazing photos.
When I first went to see the Whale Sharks, I didn’t know what to expect. I was there with a friend and after arriving in Tan-awan and getting off the main road, we went down towards the shore. There is a clearing with two concrete structures and several vehicles parked around it. Tour Sidekicks offers a variety of tour packages to get here.
We approached the reception area where they asked each of us for our name and nationality. After writing down the information we attended a short briefing where the staff lays out the guidelines for swimming with the Whale Sharks.
Whale Sharks, despite having been exposed to humans for several years are still wild animals. Their response to being touched is unpredictable. If people were allowed to touch them, this will lead to additional stress and may drive them away. Their skin may also have some organisms that could irritate your hands. Keep at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and the Whale Shark at all times. They’re maneuvering around in limited space trying to feed themselves. You may find their movement hard to predict leading you to get into physical contact with them.
Sunblock or any type of lotion is prohibited from being worn at this point. When you get into the water, this will be washed off. As filter feeders, the Whale Sharks drink sea water along with their food. Chemicals from lotions that are mixed with the water could potentially have adverse effects on their health. If you did wear lotion already, you can go to the shower area to wash it off.
Flash photography might cause confusion and panic amongst these creatures. It’s best to refrain from using it for a smooth sailing tour experience. All guests are required to wear a life jacket. If you know how to swim then you can take it off so you can dive underwater and have a good look at the whale sharks. This allows you to take good footage of the tour. Non-swimmers, however, are highly discouraged from removing their life jacket for the whole duration of the tour. We wouldn’t want any untoward incident that could ruin your trip.
When going down from the boat, be sure to take it slow. Diving in the water so suddenly will cause a splash that could rattle the Whale Sharks. Also, if you hired a motorboat from somewhere else, it won’t be able to go near the Whale Watching area. The blade in their propeller could potentially hurt the Whale Shark. Only manual boats are allowed to go in.
The punishment for breaking these guidelines could range from a fine amounting to Php 2,500.00 or 4-6 months of imprisonment.
After the short briefing, you will submit payment for the tour. You’ll then be given a receipt with a number for your group. You need to hand this over to another table where it will be added to the queue. When your number is called, you have to approach the staff who will hand you a life vest and snorkeling gear. He will then walk you towards the boat that will take you to the Whale Sharks.
As you get closer to the interaction area, you will notice the reaction that other tourists have towards the Whale Sharks. Some look happy, some are amazed and there are some who seem scared about getting in the water. The Whale Sharks swim near the surface. The krill that they feed on floats in the water so part of the Whale Shark’s head is exposed in the air when their mouth opens. They would suck in the water in front of them and, along with it, the krill.
They don’t look so big just looking at them from the boat. However, after I took a look underwater, it was a different story altogether. The real size of this wonderful sea creature presented itself in full view. It was huge!
I looked all around me since they came in from different directions and swam back and forth. I observed what was going on first before picking a Whale Shark to really observe. When the Whale Shark got nearer, I handed the underwater camera to my friend and asked him to take footage of me. I dove and then he took the shot. However, after reviewing the footage, I found that it wasn’t good since the Whale Shark already went past by the time we were in position. We were too slow to get set.
The best approach is to take lots of footage to have many materials to work with. You can do editing later to put together the good parts. Be sure though that your pursuit of the perfect picture or video doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying the experience. These moments don’t come often and there are very few places in the world where you can see Whale Sharks this close.
Another thing I did was I floated behind the Whale Shark as it continued to swim. I had a good view and wanted to have steady and continuous footage. However, by the time I went back up, I ended up beside another boat. The boatman kindly asked me to go back to my assigned boat. Apparently, the sea current carried me to them. It was slow so I hardly noticed how far away I moved.
After 30 minutes, the length of the interaction for each session, the boatman told us that it was time to go. We went back to shore and left our gear with the staff. I took a shower to wash off and then went to the changing room to wear some dry clothes.
Studies are ongoing to try to understand the nature of the Whale Sharks. Whether it’s a good thing to regularly feed the Whale Sharks is a topic up for debate. It’s best to take advantage of the tour while it’s available and the Whale Sharks are still around.
We offer a variety of tour packages that will help you explore destinations in Cebu and Bohol. I recommend the Whale Shark with Aguinid and Kawasan Falls tour. You can also check the rest of our tour packages by browsing our website.
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