Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in Oslob

The next day it was time for a special activity that I had been looking forward to for a long time: Snorkeling with whale sharks in Oslob. To be honest, I was not completely sure if should really do it. The whale sharks are not technically kept in captivity. They swim around freely. However, they are attracted by baits of krill to make sure that every visitor gets to see one of those gentle giants. Critics say that this helps to make the whale sharks dependend on humans and interferes with their natural behaviour. Since they are getting fed all year round in Oslob, the whale sharks cease to migrate, which messes with their natural bio rhythm and reproductive patterns. Critics also point out that the whale sharks can get hurt by getting too close to humans and their boats. This may well be true: Even in the early hours masses of tourism are swimming in the water, therefore physical contact cannot always be avoided. All these arguments against the whale shark tourism are valid. However, according to the logic of these critics, zoos would have to be forbidden, as would the keeping of pets, because in these two cases animals are also fed. What is more, the whale shark tourism is a valuable source of income for a lot of families in Oslob. Therefore everybody has to consider the pros and cons of this type of tourism and decide for themselves.

After a bit of soul-searching I decided to do it, because I had come all the way to Oslob. And I do not regret it. Encountering these giant animals in the water is a truly unique experience, although as one of Cebu´s main attractions, it is also mass tourism at its finest. For most people it is the only reason to stay in Oslob.

Meeting time was 5.30 AM. I had already booked the tour for 1000 Pesos (19 USD) the night before. Together with our guides we went to the Orientation Center, which was already packed with hundreds of tourists. After waiting around a bit, we received our briefing and where given the rules: keep a distance of 13 feet to the whale sharks, do not touch the animals, do not use sun screen. After that we received our snorkeling gear and manned the boat, which drove out 100 metres off the coast. It was there that it dawned on me: The tour guides were not really doing much except baiting the whale sharks with krill. One could easily rent a snorkeling mask and fins for 200 Pesos (4 USD) and swim out there alone. This might cause a bit of irritation, but would be a lot cheaper. After a very short boat ride we jumped into the water, armed with underwater cameras. We did not have to wait long for the whale sharks. Out of the depths they surfaced with their giant, speckled bodies. It was truly awe-inspiring to see these animals face to face. As the tour guides reminded us, wale sharks are harmless creatures. Despite their enormous size they feed exclusively on small organisms. Nonetheless, seeing one of those giants swim towards me with its mouth open was slightly intimidating. I wondered if they could swallow a person – if only by accident. Another whale shark grazed my foot with its fin, and it was obvious that these animals were used to human contact. After half an hour the spectacle was over and we drove back to the coast to enjoy a large breakfast of coffee and pancakes. All in all, I would do it again, although in hindsight 1000 Pesos seems a bit much, considering that the tour guides do not do a lot. But then again, you are guaranteed to spot a whale shark which might justify the price…

After that we received our snorkeling gear and manned the boat, which drove out 100 metres off the coast. It was there that it dawned on me: The tour guides did not really do much except baiting the whale sharks with krill. One could easily rent a snorkeling mask and fins for 200 Pesos (4 USD) and swim out there alone. This might cause a bit of irritation, but would be a lot cheaper. After a very short boat ride we jumped into the water, armed with underwater cameras. We did not have to wait long for the whale sharks. Out of the depths they surfaced with their giant, speckled bodies. It was truly awe-inspiring to see these animals face to face. As the tour guides reminded as, wale sharks are harmless creatures. Despite their enourmeous size they feed exclusively on small organisms. Nonetheless, seeing one of those giants swim towards me with its mouth open was slightly intimidating. I wondered if they could swallow a person – if only by accident. Another whale shark grazed my foot with its fin, and it was obvious that these animals were used to human contact. After half an hour the spectacle was over and we drove back to the coast to enjoy a large breakfast of coffee and pancakes. All in all, I would do it again, although in hindsight 1000 Pesos seems a bit much, considering that the tour guides do not do much.

It was only after I had gone to Oslob that I learned about Donsol, another place where you can have the whale shark experience. The prices seem to be similar to Oslob, however, the whale sharks are not fed there. Therefore, other than in Oslob, sightings are not guaranteed. So if you are looking for an eco-friendly alternative, you should consider going to Donsol instead of Oslob.

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