Oslob, Cebu: Swimming with the Whale Sharks

by - 4:00:00 PM


Whale Sharks also known as Butanding (in Tagalog) or Tuki (in Cebuano) are formidable creatures of the sea. And they are for a good reason - they are said to be the largest fish on the planet, capable of growing more than 40 feet in length. Their mouths could reach a width of over 3 feet which could easily swallow my diminutive size with just a gulp! Yikes! 


Tourist boats lining up to get up close with the "gentle giants" of the sea.

But even with its humongous size, these "gentle giants" aptly live to its moniker as they only eat plankton, krills, and tiny fishes.. It's even possible to swim with them in Oslob, a once quiet fishing town in Southern Cebu. Over the recent years, this has become a "whale shark circus," attracting thousands of tourists from all over the world for the chance to swim with them and see them up close. 

This sudden rise to fame is not without controversy. The people of Tan-awan, Oslob may have enjoyed the benefits that whale shark tourism has brought to them but others fear that this alteration in the whale sharks' natural habitat and migration patterns would do more harm than good in the long run.   


The orientation - do's and don'ts when swimming with the whale sharks.

After the orientation (which all tourists need to go through), we proceeded to our assigned paddle boat and went a few meters from the shore to where the action was. The boatmen were kind enough to answer our questions and even reminded us of the regulations we needed to follow prior to jumping off the banca.

It was an amazing experience seeing them up close! There were about three or four of these creatures swimming about in the area. At first I was scared that they might chop my head off or something but these sharks seemed to be more focused on getting the krills that were being thrown by the boatman to lure them to swim nearby to the delight of the tourists.  


I hadn't given much thought about the controversy surrounding the whale sharks until I got the chance to experience it myself earlier this year. It may seem harmless at first since the sharks are well fed and well-taken care of. And to add to that, whale watching has been a great help to the local tourism of Oslob. 

Whale Sharks are migratory animals and I personally think that if we continue this kind of activity just for the sake of tourism, we are killing them slowly. In Oslob, whale sharks are hand-fed and most likely they would stay longer than necessary because food is readily available for them. A shark named Mr. Bean even stayed for more than 200 days. Though stricter rules have been implemented surrounding tourist behavior, I still feel that they are caged and lured with food for the sake of entertainment. 



As the song goes, if we really love them, we've got to set them free.


Where is Oslob, Cebu?

Oslob is a quiet town in the southern part of the province of Cebu in the Philippines. Whether you arrive by plane at Mactan Cebu International Airport or by boat from nearby provinces, Ceres buses bound for southern towns are readily available at Cebu South Bus Terminal. Just make sure you take the Bato/Santander bus - fare is around 150 php. 

Don't forget to tell the conductor to drop you off at Barangay Tan-awan in Oslob or just simply say "Butanding" (they would know right away).


Quick Tips:
  • Swimming with the whale sharks is only allowed in the morning so its best to leave Cebu City at dawn. 
  • If you hate the crowd and long queue, weekdays will be the best for you as it gets really crowded during the weekends and holidays.
  • The use of snorkels and masks is already part of the fee but if you don't feel like doing "mouth-to-mouth" with other people you don't know, better bring your own snorkel gear for hygienic purposes.
  • Wear rashguard or any protective clothing. The use of sunblock is not allowed. They even ask you to shower and to remove the sunblock from your skin before you ride the banca.
  • Don't use cameras with flash. 
  • Do not touch nor go near the whale sharks. Always maintain a safe distance of 4 meters or more.
  • Be careful all the time and be wary as you go underwater. Remember, you are sharing the sea with these big creatures, dozens of boats, and scores of frantic tourists all eager to see these coveted creatures of the sea.

Note:

300 php    - Just watching from the banca
500 php    - Swimming with the whale sharks (local)
1000 php  - Swimming with the whale sharks (foreigner)
300 php    - estimated roundtrip bus fare 

***Special thanks to my friend, Albee of albeeholic.com, for sharing the footages in the video. Visit her site for more travel tips and recipes! :)

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