Should you swim with the whale sharks?

I have read multiple articles about discouraging people from supporting the tourist attraction of swimming with the whale sharks. Because of these online articles, I was personally very hesitant to do this when my husband asked me to go try and experience this.

We just recently relocated to this new city in Cebu and we are still at a point where we want to explore this beautiful place. From trying new restaurants, experiencing nature, visiting tourist spots, etc. It’s our attempt at being touristy, at least for the first few months of staying in this new area.

So one long weekend, my husband suddenly decided to try whale watching/swimming in Oslob. I was first very skeptical about it because I love nature. I happen to really want to protect and preserve wildlife and the creatures living in it. The whale sharks are one step away from extinction, so anything that we can do to protect them will definitely go a long way.

So I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll try it. The experience may allow me to be educated on how these creatures live and how they’re actually treated by the locals.” So off to Oslob we went.

The trip:

From Cebu City, you can travel to Oslob by land. It took us 3 hours to get there, which wasn’t that bad. The road to Oslob was also pretty good. Oslob is in the southern part of Cebu. Here’s a quick map if you plan to go there.

ph_locator_cebu_oslob

When we got there, you would know that whale sharks are the main attraction for the tourists as a big tarp welcomed us with a photo of a “butanding” (the whale shark’s local name). They are considered the largest fish in the sea. They say that the largest one spotted was 40 feet long.

From what I saw, almost all resorts offer whale shark watching as one of their tourist activities. Even in November, people would flock just to see these big creatures. I was amazed to see a lot of people there during an off-peak season.

Price:

Price differs based on nationality 🙂 Locals/Filipinos get a way lower price than foreigners. We paid 500 PHP to swim with the whale sharks for 30 minutes, and if you decide to just watch them from the banka, the fee is just 300 PHP. Foreigners have to pay double the price.

The experience:

We were taken to the beach front where the butandings were. They swam really near the shoreline and seemed to be very well acquainted with people. They were not afraid to see humans.

Whale sharks are big eaters. The guides would throw krill to lead the whale shark pretty close for the watchers to see.

The process was strict. You CANNOT get in the water and go near the whale sharks without going through the orientation. The instructions were pretty straightforward:

  • Whale shark watchers are ONLY allowed 30 minutes with the creatures
  • Only the accredited businesses are allowed to bring tourists to the area
  • Tourists are NOT ALLOWED to feed the whale sharks
  • NEVER touch the whale sharks.
  • Do not wear lotion, or any types of sunscreen when going in the water as this may harm the animals
  • Stay near your boat and not too near the whale sharks to not disturb their natural behavior

After I have experienced being up close with these magnificent creatures, I came up with two conclusions.

First, educating the locals of the value of taking care and making sure that these creatures survive and thrive for a long time has really helped keep these creatures alive. They are endangered. In the past, the locals hunt and slaughtered them so they can be sold in the market. Some even thought of them as pests, so people killed them. This no longer happens now as locals are making a livelihood because of these giant whale sharks.

On the other hand, because the whale sharks associate the boats/humans with food, they may already be too dependent on humans feeding them. From what I saw, they were pretty domesticated. This might be dangerous as they may incorrectly approach shark fishing boats and end up being killed. This would definitely also affect their normal migration pattern.

So would I do it again? No, I won’t. That experience helped me understand how the activity affects these animals. But at the same time, I am happy that people, most especially the locals, understand the importance of keeping these creatures alive. I continue to hope that in the near future, the great whale sharks will be removed from the endangered species list.

Advertisements