Whale sharks – snorkeling around the Philippines.
Whale sharks – About 12 years ago I was lucky enough to snorkel with a monster of a whale shark in the wild. It was on a spearfishing trip in Mozambique and this enormous fish showed up from nowhere, no other tourists, no other boats and this gentle giant allowed me to hang around and admire it for a while. While traveling in South East Asia I heard stories about people snorkeling and being surrounded by up to twenty of these gentle giants at a time!
Alya and I met surfing at Luzon island and we thought seeing a couple of these amazing creatures in the wild would be an unreal experience.
We decided that we were going to go to different sites for whale shark watching and compare the different experience at each location.
After a couple of days on Palawan Island we flew to Cebu where we met up with a good Argentinean friend, Alejandro to start our search.
OSLOB, A HORRIBLE WHALE SHARK EXPERIENCE
We started our whale shark ‘hunting’ at the famous/infamous Oslob, Cebu. I knew that they were feeding the whale sharks over here and read some bad reviews, but the experience was much worse than I could
ever imagine. Supporting this industry by paying to go out on one of the boats is something that I regret.
We arrived at 6 am together with many local tourists for the briefing, “do not touch the whale sharks, wear an orange life jacket if you can’t swim, etc.” About 15 small boats packed with tourists rowed the 50 meters off-shore to a row of buoys to which all the boats anchored and the captains started throwing out a chum line of food for the whale sharks.
There were 5 or 6 sharks just hanging vertically in the water, mouths open being fed by the boat captains. The sharks were not swimming and everybody was just hanging around them, it felt like being in a zoo. See our video below
Why is feeding a problem?
The main concerns with feeding the whale sharks at Oslob are
- Malnutrition due to a lack in diversity in their diets, they only eat krill.
- Staying in one place can influence migration and breeding patterns.
- Getting injured by tourists.
This can surely not have a good impact on the migration and breeding patterns of these sharks, dive instructors at Moal Boal told me they used to see whale sharks every year, but since the feeding at Oslob started they do not see them anymore since they just hang around Oslob all year.
A positive spin on this ecological nightmare is that it is good for the community creating jobs. The industry created results in the whale sharks being worth more alive than dead, helping the sharks escape the shark finning industry.
DONSOL – A WHALE SHARK IN THE WILD
To attempt to see a couple of whale sharks in the wild Alya and I went to Donsol in Sorsogon, South Luzon. We stayed in Donsol for about a week and went out on three whale shark seeing expeditions, extending our stay for another day after each unsuccessful attempt. During these trips there were six tourists on each boat, the whale shark interacting officer really did a great job, standing in the crow’s nest for the full three hour duration of the trip, trying to spot a whale shark.
On the last day after our three hours were finished we were lucky and our officer spotted a shark on the way home. All 6 of us were in the water in seconds and had about 30 seconds swimming with this magnificent beast, before it dove to deep. I was lucky to shoot a couple of seconds of video before it disappeared into the deep; visibility was not very good at about 5 meters. There were a lot of boats trying to find whale sharks, but this excursion and the 30 successful seconds were definitely much more enjoyable than the circus we experienced at Oslob.
Rules for the protection of both the sharks and the tourists were strictly adhered to and the crew did an excellent job.
Maybe regulating the industry in Oslob in a similar fashion as Donsol is a solution.
LIGAZBY – WHALE SHARKS IN A RUBBISH DUMP
While we were at Donsol many whale sharks were seen in the harbor of nearby Ligazby, apparently this was very unusual. We heard that there were spur of the moment whale shark watching trips were being organized and made our way to Ligazpy by Jeepny. This is definitely the dirtiest water I have ever swum in, not just bad visibility but so much rubbish; an ecological nightmare, you have to look at the photos to get any idea of how bad this was.
The whale sharks did not seem to mind and soon we were snorkeling with six whale sharks. The visibility was so bad that at some spots I could not see my hand in front of my face underwater and not bumping into the animals was a challenge. It was a very enjoyable day despite the pollution, we kept trying to find the sharks with the boat and when we jumped in the water they seemed to enjoy our company and swam around us for a while. The water was so dirty that you could only see the sharks on the surface. Out of a health view point, I don’t think swimming around in this harbor full of sewage and floating plastic is very good for either human or whale shark and I hope for the shark’s sake that hanging around here was a once off incident.
Oslob – $23 usd
Donsol – $30 usd
Compare this with $100-$150 in Cancun or Isla Holbox Mexico, $90 in Utila Honduras
When hundreds of people swim with whale sharks anywhere in the world surely the direct impact on these animals can only be a negative one. You have to weigh this up against the positive economic influence and the fact that they are not getting slaughtered because of their financial worth to the tourism industry. Together with the fact that it is awesome to swim with these animals, in the wild I would definitely attempt to do it again!
I did not enjoy the feeding that goes on at Oslob, would not recommend anybody to go there and hope they change to controlled viewing only, similar to that in Donsol.
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