Swimming with the Massive Yet Graceful Oslob Whale Sharks

No aquarium, regardless of how spacious and fancy it is, can replace the amazement that comes with an actual exploration of the sea’s wilderness. This is why we were so excited to visit Oslob. We arrived in Cebu at midnight and took a 20-minute cab ride going to Ceres Bus Terminal. Our bus ride lasted for almost four hours. When we arrived at Brgy. Tan-awan, it was only 4 a.m., but instead of booking a room (we were only there for a day tour anyway), we opted to pay for a cottage where we could rest and charge our gadgets.

Come 7 a.m., we had breakfast and braced ourselves to meet the maritime wonders called butanding or their local name, tuki. Whale sharks are technically not whales but slow-moving sharks whose mouths resemble those of baleen whales. Don’t let the “shark” name frighten you because they’re gentle and docile.

Apart from paying for the fees, I likewise rented an underwater camera because it’s the boatman who’d operate the camera. I don’t want to think about pictures since it isn’t every day that you get the chance to swim with whale sharks.

Oslob’s fishermen will bring you to a spot where the whale sharks are. You will ride a hand-paddled boat to reach a certain area that’s a few meters shy from the shore. The fishermen will then feed the whale sharks buckets of krill for them to come close.  I removed my life jacket, jumped off the boat, and got captivated by the presence of such massive yet elegant creatures.

Shortly after, guilt nudged me. It’s something I won’t deny upon realizing that our humbling interaction with the whale sharks, though innocuous, might not be in their best interests. Feeding them essentially keeps them captive until noon. This has sparked controversy too. They say the whale sharks becoming reliant on locals for food does not contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

I have to commend Oslob’s Whale Shark Watching Center’s efforts though to raise the guests’ awareness on ethical interactions with wildlife. It appears that the whale sharks are generally well-protected because of the policies. Guests are prohibited to wear sunblock lotions for these can pose perils to the whale sharks’ health. If you did apply some, there’s a designated shower area for you to rinse off your cream or lotion.

Please adhere to the center’s rules. Don’t touch the whale sharks or swim too closely because even if they’re devoid of jaws and teeth, they can still defend themselves with their enormous tails if they are startled. Don’t use flash photography as it can frighten them. A snorkeling kit is included in the package but you can forego it and opt for free diving. While you are only given 30 minutes for the monitored encounter, don’t forget to be cautious because there’s a tendency for you to be poked by other swimming tourists.

Air-conditioned bus from Cebu to Oslob – P150++
Resort cottage – P100 each
Oslob whale shark watching fees – P 500 each for local tourists and P1,000 each for foreign tourists
Single tank scuba dive – P3,500 inclusive of gears and marine fees