A Divemasters Review to Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob- Cebu
I have visited The Philippines twice now, and on the second visit, I decided that I wanted to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu. As a Divemaster and complete ocean lover, I wanted to be sure I was making a conscious decision where the welfare of the animal was put first. In this guide, I will talk about my experience, as well as some of the pros and cons of the swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob.
MAKING THE DECISION TO SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS IN OSLOB
As I mentioned earlier, it was my second time visiting The Philippines, and on the first visit, I had decided not to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob. Two years later, I would find myself back in the water, doing just that.
While working as a Divemaster out on the Great Barrier Reef, my captain and I got chatting about The Philippines and how just one year ago, she had gone swimming with the whale sharks. Now she is someone I completely respect and whose opinion I trusted. Lisa informed me that while it wasn’t the best way to go about seeing whale sharks in the wild, it wasn’t the worst either. And with that, Thomas and I decided we would build an opinion about it ourselves, and so we headed off to Oslob.
For those of you that don’t know, before this activity began, they used to kill the whale sharks and sell their meat and hide. I think this is a much better alternative.
Thomas and I arrived early at the office for the whale shark experience, around 6 am, and the place was already packed. We were instantly taken aback by this and we very tempted to leave straight away. We thought surely arriving at this time would ensure at least smaller lines. It definitely didn’t help that it was a Sunday.
We were actually surprised at the amount of local tourism. There were not nearly as many foreign tourists as we had expected which was definitely nice.
When you arrive there are two lines, one for locals, and one for foreign guests. There were probably only 4 people in front of us so that was nice. We signed in and then proceeded to pay the cashier 1000 Pesos per person. The whole process is actually pretty organized.
After you pay the cashier, you have to sit down in the briefing area, and the guide goes over some general rules for interacting with the whale sharks. I think most people were not paying attention and it wasn’t being taken seriously. This definitely needs to change. Once you are briefed you will be given a group number. It only took around 15 minutes for our number to be called. It is definitely a strange process, organized chaos I guess.
One thing I really appreciated was that the boats did not have motors. This ensures no whale sharks will have cuts directly from the activity. Other boats that they cruise up to because they think they are going to get fed, is a different story. However, the whale sharks seemed to be moderately injury free.
After your number gets called you will get on a boat with no more than 8 people. A lot of people that visit the whale sharks in Oslob, don’t actually know how to swim and end up just staying on the boat. There was only 5 of us in the water from our group, but they do not allow more than 6 people per whale shark. You get strictly 30 minutes to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob. The boats form almost a big square on the perimeter of the viewing area, while a boat feeding the whale sharks cruises past. I definitely felt like if they are going to feed them, that boat needs to be much further away, and in turn, the whale sharks will be further away. They were way too close, and it was hard to stay out of the 3-meter limit.
Thomas and I saw so many whale sharks that day. They are truly magnificent creatures. We also saw a little sea turtle cruise past which was very cool. However, because I knew they were going to be there, and I knew they were being fed, it took away a lot of the magic. It is definitely not something I need to do again.
While going through the quick briefing where they go over a few rules. As I mentioned earlier, it didn’t seem to me that people were paying attention. If you do decide to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob, here are the rules.
- NO SUNSCREEN– Why you ask? Most sunscreens contain a very harmful chemical called Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. These chemicals are crazy toxic and you should avoid them always, not just when swimming with the whale sharks. If you’re looking for an alternative, try TROPIC SPORT. They are a mineral based sunscreen and totally reef safe!
- NO TOUCHING– For the love NO TOUCHING. I know you want to connect with this beautiful creature but I assure you this isn’t the way. As with anything in nature, you don’t need to touch it to admire it. It’s like a museum or vegas.
- NO CLOSER THAN 3 METERS- Now this one is really tricky because they bring them so close to you with the feeding boat its hard to stay away, but do your best. Do not swim in front of the whale sharks or obstruct its course.
- STAY WITH THE BOAT- Do not chase the whale sharks or try and wander. The feeding boat will come past you again don’t worry.
PROS vs. CONS
There are several things I did not enjoy about swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob but I do think the pros outweigh the cons.
- NO MOTORS- Because the boats do not have motors, it ensures injuries won’t come directly from the activity
- 6 GUESTS- There are only allowed to be 6 guests per whale shark. This leaves plenty of room for the whale sharks to go about their business.
- NO SUNSCREEN- I really like this rule. They also don’t allow shampoo or conditioner of any kind in the showers on the beach, which is awesome!
- CONSERVATION- In order to get people to care about conserving any species, you need to start with education. In order for people to want to get educated, they need to get care about the animals.
- NO MORE KILLING- This is much better than the fisherman killing the whale sharks for their meat as they used to.
- STRICT- For the most part, the guides are pretty strict. This is their livelihood and they want to ensure they keep it on the up and up. If you get too close or start swimming away, they will yell at you, or come and get you.
- UNNATURAL- It is an unnatural feeding circumstance. The whale sharks are being fed and that is why they are staying in the area. They will not grow to the average side as they would normally.
- STRICT- Now I know I listed this as a pro but its also a con. A girl in our group accidentally body slammed a whale shark and she was able to keep swimming. If you’re not going to pay attention, and you bump into a whale shark, you need to be pulled out of the water.
- BOATS- Because the whale sharks are being fed from a boat, they now associate boats with food, and this can lead to serious injury. While the whale shark watching boats don’t have props, other boats in the area do.
- PEOPLE- There are so many people! It really ruins the experience and magic.
- CUTS- I did see a few whale sharks with some cuts and scratches.
In summary, I would say the pros out-way the cons but the final decision is of course, up to you.
There is another spot to swim with whale sharks in The Philippines called Donsol, however, I heard its a bit of a crap show as well.
WHERE TO STAY IN OSLOB
Should you decide you would like to go swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob, I recommend staying at D’DOWNHILL. They are walking distance to the whale sharks. They don’t have Wifi and our air conditioning cut in the middle of the night, but the place is really clean. HA! You really only need to stay for one night as the activity only takes an hour from start to finish.
I have attached a map below with the location for the whale shark office.
I hope you enjoyed my post about swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu. It is our duty as travelers to always be sure we are making conscious decisions.
All photos were taken using my GoPro Hero 6.