Also known as “gentle giants”, the whale sharks are the largest known extant fish species. And if you’re going to Cebu, chances are you’ve heard about the whale shark watching in Oslob.
Well, we’re here to share our experience with you and why photos on Instagram isn’t always as it seems.
What to Expect: Reality Check
You see a lot of stunning photos of the whale shark watching on Instagram, but there’s a lot of things they’re not showing you. Here, we’ll talk about what you should expect when going whale sharking watching in Oslob.
On our second trip back to Cebu, Ryk and I decided to visit the Oslob whale sharks.
Needless to say, we were so disappointed with our experience. Instead of an authentic natural experience with the whale sharks, we found ourselves in a zoo/circus-like set-up.
There are A LOT of people
It was too crowded and the number of people wanting to see the whale sharks seems to keep growing. The boatmen keep feeding the whale sharks to keep them near for the tourists to see.
Despite saying that the entire activity is overseen by a marine biologist, we never saw one. And if I were one, I don’t think I’d want the whale sharks to be exposed to such unsustainable practice.
Oslob is famous for its whale sharks so it’s not a surprise to find that even on a weekday, there are still hundreds of people waiting in line to see the whale sharks.
It will be even harder to move around with all the people. Aside from seeing the whale sharks, you’ll see lots of feet, legs, butts and more. It’s a bit stressful, to be honest. You’ll constantly bump into one another and sometimes people bump into the whale sharks. Nobody even cares about the 5m distance.
And we heard it was even worse during the weekends. With the hundreds of people we saw on that weekday, our tour guide told us that there would be ten times more people during the weekends! Just imagine how much stress that is to the whale sharks.
If you hate the crowd, I suggest skipping Oslob.
You can choose to snorkel or just watch from the boat
When watching the whale sharks, you can choose to go down the boat and snorkel or just stay inside the boat. There’s a separate fee for each. (You can check the rates and fees down here on this blog post.)
The activity only lasts 30 minutes
After 30 minutes, you’ll have to say goodbye to the whale sharks. Your boatmen will ask you to go back to the boat for the trip back to the shore. The activity is done by batch.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll be waiting in line for one to three hours until you get the chance to see the whale sharks. And that’s only 30 minutes.
It’s hella expensive
To go whale shark watching, you’ll have to pay a lot of money for just a 30-minute up-close encounter with the whale sharks.
Here are the fees:
- Scuba Diving (without gear) – P1,500 (30 USD)
- Snorkeling / Swimming – P1,000 (20 USD)
- Watching – P500 (10 USD)
- Scuba Diving (without gear) – P600 (12 USD)
- Snorkeling / Swimming – P500 (10 USD)
- Watching – P300 (6 USD)
The whale shark watching area is only a few meters away from the shore
You read that right. To get to the whale shark watching area, you’ll be asked to ride a small boat for around 10 people. The boatman will then paddle you towards the whale sharks. You’ll get there in just 2 to 3 minutes.
Taking photos is a challenge
With all the crowds, you will have a hard time taking the photos you want. Plus, phones are not allowed, so better bring your own underwater cameras to take the shots you want. You can also ask the boatmen for help.
Rules are not being followed
Here are the rules that you should observe when going to see the whale sharks.
Oslob Whale Shark Watching Rules
- After paying the fees, you’ll be asked to sit for a brief orientation about the rules when interacting with the whale sharks.
- Do not feed the whale sharks. There are those whose work is to feed them.
- The whale sharks are protected endangered species so touching, riding or chasing a whale shark is a no-no.
- When you see the whale shark coming towards you, move away and maintain a minimum distance of 5m from the head, 6m from the tail.
- Don’t restrict the normal movement and behavior of the whale shark.
- Using a flash when taking photos is prohibited. This can harm and stress the whale sharks.
- Avoid creating a splash when entering the water.
- Don’t use sunscreens. These can be harmful to whale sharks and fishes around the area.
- You won’t see any motorboats as these are prohibited. Only paddleboats are allowed.
- Always wear your life jackets.
- Mobile phones are not allowed. Use underwater cameras.
However, most of these rules are not followed.
During the activity, everybody has a hard time keeping the required distance stated in the rules. Plus, whenever the whale shark eats, it sucks in a lot of water which can pull you over to their side.
We saw a lot of tourists trying to take great photos of themselves, posing in front of the whale sharks and in turn has a hard time moving away when the whale sharks suddenly swim their way.
Despite all the rules stated above, the boatmen aren’t as strict as they should be. They allow the use of mobile phones even though it was stated during the orientation that it’s prohibited. In fact, they’re even the ones encouraging the tourists to take their photos.
Even the use of life jackets is ignored just for the sake of taking photos.
We even saw one person swimming and chasing the whale shark together with one boatman for a photo.
The whale sharks were majestic but the way the tours were being handled might be causing more harm than good to these gentle giants.
We saw how the boatmen allowed all kinds of things just to satisfy tourists.
After seeing for ourselves what Oslob whale shark watching is like, it’s safe to say that WE’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN.
If you want to see whale sharks, AVOID OSLOB, CEBU. They care more about the money than the state of the whale sharks.
Points For Improvement
Here are some points for improvement that we observed during our trip.
- Enforce the rules strictly and educate the boatmen why these should be followed. After all, the whale sharks are their source of income. Care for these species should be their priority.
- Limit the number of tourists. The crowds and the large number of tourists are quite stressful for whale sharks and have a negative impact on these gentle giants.
Why You Should Skip the Oslob Whale Shark Watching
As much as 47% of the whale sharks in Oslob has cuts and bruises
When we went to visit, the whale sharks we saw had several cuts in their bodies mostly due to the overcrowding in the water and their familiarity with boats. During feeding, the whale sharks often run into boats in Oslob.
When a whale shark leaves Oslob, it equates boats to food so instead of swimming away, they approach the boats. Often, they are hit by the boat’s propellers because they think the bubbles around the boat are food.
The whale sharks are not receiving enough nutrition
Because of the whale shark tourism, most of the whale sharks are being fed to keep them hanging around for a long time so tourists like you will pay money to see them. If that isn’t exploitation, I don’t know what is.
Because of this, the whale sharks don’t receive enough nutrition from the food given to them. As a result, they don’t have a natural diet and have their reproduction and growth affected.
They’re missing out on reproduction opportunities
Whale sharks are migratory species. They don’t normally hang around one place. But because of the whale shark tourism, they don’t follow their migration routes and don’t mate or breed as they should.
They are more susceptible to diseases
Because the Oslob whale sharks hang around the shallow waters to be fed, their bodies heat up and their stress levels increase. Whale sharks dive as deep as 1,000 meters and hang out around 50 meters. It is said they do this to sleep, balance their body temperatures and remove parasites.
By hanging around Oslob, their survival, general health, reproduction, immune system and growth is greatly affected.
These are just some of the many reasons why it’s unnatural and unsustainable for the whale sharks to stay in Oslob.
So what now?
I’ve pondered for months on whether or not I should post a blog on our trip to Oslob and finally made the decision to do it.
By writing this blog post, I hope to keep you informed on what’s going on behind those Instagram photos and hopefully help put pressure on the local tourism to provide a more sustainable and ecological setting for the whale sharks.
Give this post by National Geographic a read to better understand the effects of whale shark tourism:
Sustainable Whale Shark Watching Areas in the Philippines to Visit
For an ethical and sustainable whale shark encounter, visit off the coast of Dumaguete, Donsol, or Pintuyan. Pintuyan, specifically, is in Southern Leyte and well known for its responsible interaction with wild whale sharks.
Travel Tip: Check schedules and availability of buses, ferries, taxis or flights to Cebu to book online with 12Go Asia.
Nearby Places to Visit
If you love snorkeling, you’re going to love the turtles and sardine run in Moalboal. This place offers one of the best snorkeling sites in the Philippines. It’s only 2.5 hours away from Oslob.
Can’t get enough of turtles? Apo island is another snorkeling paradise where you can see sea turtles up close and personal. The coral garden around the island is also a must-visit! Apo island is only around 4 hours away from Oslob.
Get enchanted by Siquijor’s laidback beach town vibe. The white sandy beaches, stunning marine sanctuaries, and friendly locals will make you fall in love. This island is only 2 to 3 hours away from Oslob.
Home to the famous silvanas and sans rival desserts, Dumaguete is a must-visit after Oslob if you have a sweet tooth and love for history. It’s only 2.5 hours away from Oslob.
And of course you can also ride a ferry to Panglao island in Bohol for 1.5 hours!
Want to go canyoneering, too? You can join an Oslob Whale Shark Snorkeling and Badian Canyoneering adventure here.
Our Camera Gear
- Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm XT3
- Lenses: Fujifilm Fujinon kit lens (18-55mm) | Fujinon 35mm f2 | Fujinon 50mm f2
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2
- GoPro: GoPro Hero Black 7
- Power Bank: Romoss Powerbank
- Camera Backpack: Case Logic Camera and Laptop Backpack
- Monopod: Ifootage Cobra 2 a180
- Mic: Rode VideoMicro
- Gimbal: Zhiyun Weebill-S
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