22 Dec Travel Guide: Swimming with the Oslob Whale Sharks
The whale shark tourism in the Philippines is rapidly growing, specifically in Oslob, Cebu. It started years ago when the local fishermen realized that they could feed the whale sharks with shrimps. The sharks then would hang out in the area and wait to be fed. It became a regular occurrence, and eventually started bringing a number of tourists in Oslob to see the sharks during feeding. Nowadays a travel to Oslob, Cebu will not be complete without swimming with one of these gentle giants.
How to get there:
To experience this one-of-a-kind activity, one can travel from Cebu to Baranggay Tan-awan, Oslob. Simply go to the Cebu’s South Bus Terminal and hop on a bus bound to Oslob. The fare is around PHP150 or $3, and the travel time is only 3 hours. Ask to be dropped off at the whale watching station, which is conveniently located along the highway. The bus drivers are all familiar with the whale watching station so you won’t have a hard time reaching this place.
As for those coming from Bohol, the most convenient way to reach Oslob is to ride a ferry to Cebu. You can choose from any of the four companies offering ferry rides to Cebu. If possible, take the earliest trip (6:30 AM) since the whale watching activity is only available from 6AM – 12NN. Once you reach the Cebu City, go to the South Bus Terminal and ride the bus heading to Baranggay Tan-awan, Oslob.
Whale Shark Watching Fees:
Local tourists can either take the PHP300 ($6) package or the PHP500 ($11) package. The PHP300 package includes a lifejacket but will only let you watch the whale sharks on the boat. On the other hand, the second package includes a snorkeling gears and a lifejacket so you can safely go swimming with the whale sharks. As for the foreigner tourists, the PHP1000 ($21) fee already includes snorkeling gears and lifejacket.
Another option you have is to get a diving package. There are companies offering full equipment rental so you can better enjoy the experience.
Whale Shark Watching Dos and Don’ts:
Before you even purchase your tickets, the tourism officers will give a short briefing of the do’s and don’ts for whale watching. As opposed to what you might have read on blogs or forums, the tourism officers are doing a good job in ensuring that the tourists and the whale sharks are unharmed. You will be fined quite a good amount of pesos if you were caught breaking any of the following rules
- Do not touch the sharks – move away if you feel that the shark appears to be too close. Maintain a 12-feet distance between the shark and you.
- Do not feed the sharks – let the fishermen do the feeding as they are more familiar of the shark’s normal diet
- Do not chase the sharks – allow the sharks to leave unhindered
- Do not wear sunblock or sunscreen – sunscreen could affect the water condition on the feeding area when you go snorkeling. If possible, shower before you do the activity.
The experience itself:
I went to Oslob last January 2015, pre-summer and before peak season. However, I was so surprised to see that there were a lot of tourists even if it was off-season. Both local and foreign tourists flock to this town for the very same reason I had in mind – to swim with the whale sharks. After the orientation, we were taken on a quick boat ride to the feeding area. You will be given about 30 minutes to swim with the sharks, giving you enough time to observe and of course take a decent selfie. During the entire activity, we were lucky to see about 3 whale sharks up close. It was mesmerizing to be near these gentle and beautiful creatures.
The controversies about the activity:
Migration concerns – Whale sharks slowly travel across the depths of the ocean to migrate and search for food. One of the many controversies surrounding the whale shark feeding in Oslob is that it compromises their migration pattern. By summoning them every morning and in the same location, they are becoming dependent on this feeding activity and may not look for other options for their nutritional resources. According to experts, it’s a little early to tell if this claim is true. I hope with the constant improvement of regulations and with the presence of experts in Oslob, this potential problem could be prevented.
Injury from motorized boats – Another controversy I’ve heard of is that the sharks get injured due to motorized boats. Based on what I have experienced, this is not true. I did not see any motorized boats during my visit and the fishermen carefully paddled through the feeding area to ensure that they do not accidentally bump against the sharks.
Tourists riding the sharks – You might have also seen those videos or pictures of tourists riding and touching the sharks. I myself felt worried for them when I saw these posts. During my visit, I was glad to see that though there were a lot of tourists, all of them respected the rules mentioned during the orientation. The tourism officers now strictly implement their rules that even touching the sharks could cause you thousands of pesos. The fishermen are also doing their best to see to it that no one gets too close with any of the sharks.
Bacterial infection – Some say that hand feeding can cause sharks bacterial infection. But again, based on what we have observed, the fishermen were tossing the food to the sharks, without touching them. Also, when I was swimming with them, I noticed that they are all healthy. No injuries or infections.
The locals are also well aware of these controversies. That’s why the tourism board continuously try to shut these stories down by improving the whole ordeal and preserving the rights of the animals. After all, the whale watching activity has been their source of income for many years so they are doing their best to make sure that the activity will not be stopped by the government or by animal activists.