One of the first things I wanted to experience on one of my weekend excursions was swimming with the whale sharks. It’s one of the things Cebu is most famous for and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since researching the Philippines.
The whale sharks are actually in Oslob, a town on the southern tip of Cebu Island, about a 3 hour drive from Cebu City. This post actually includes pictures and videos from three separate excursions to Oslob, as I’ve done it more than once.
We set up a tour through a company recommended by a friend, though there are many that offer the experience. The tour included transportation to and from the hotel, breakfast, the whale shark encounter, and lunch. In addition to the whale sharks, time is also spent at two nearby waterfalls, Tumalog and Kawasan. The cost depends on how many people you have in your group, but it typically ends up around $50 or so.
We departed the hotel very early in the morning for the long drive south to Oslob. The whale sharks are fed until noon, but the earlier you go the smaller the crowds are.
After arrival, we were given a traditional Philippine light breakfast of fresh fruit and sticky rice, along with hot chocolate. The mango was excellent, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the rice.
Once finished, we loaded back up in the van for the short drive to the orientation area. We were then given a quick briefing on the rules for interacting with the whale sharks. This activity has come under scrutiny from environmentalists as it has become more widely known. There has been concerns that the sharks are becoming too accustomed to humans. To minimize the impact, there are rules on how close you can get to the sharks (4 meters), how many swimmers near each shark, and even a ban on wearing sunscreen in the water. Purposely touching a shark is an absolute no-no, and if you break this rule, you’re looking at a fine or prison time. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t see anyone disobeying the rules, and we were watched closely.)
After the briefing, we headed down to the beach and given life jackets and snorkel gear. We then waited for a boat to bring us out to the sharks. Boats go out with groups of 5-10 people, depending on the size of the boat.
Once on board the boat, it’s a 5 minute or so paddle out away from shore.
Once you get out away from shore where the sharks feed, the boat is tied and then you have half an hour to swim. As soon as you jump in the water you’re immediately greeted by the gentle giants.
The ocean was a bit rough, which made it a little difficult to snorkel without inhaling salt water. In addition, the boats are constantly moving down the line, so if you’re not a strong swimmer you can quickly get separated from your boat. Most people keep a hand on the hull of the boat for stability. The sharks come incredibly close to the boat thanks to the chum thrown out by the feeders, so you still get an amazing up close experience.
I quickly learned that the 4 meter buffer you’re supposed to keep between yourself and the sharks is very difficult to adhere to. Between the current and the sheer size of the animals, you get much, much closer than 4 meters.
The sharks that you see while snorkeling are actually babies, as the adults are too large to swim this close to shore. Despite their size, the sharks can creep up on you.
The sharks are much more like whales in that they don’t really have teeth. Instead, they suck in seawater and filter out krill.
For an extra fee, you can scuba dive instead of snorkel, though since the sharks spend most of their time near the surface, I don’t know how much better it would be.
After 30 minutes, we were called back into the boat to head back to shore. While the time in the water is short, you get several encounters with these beautiful creatures. I’d highly, highly recommend the experience to anyone who enjoys snorkeling and seeing wildlife up close and personal!
All of the screenshots in this post were taken with my GoPro Hero 4 Silver. I also recorded video of my first whale shark experience, which can be seen below.
In my next post I’ll talk about the 2nd half of this excursion, which included visits to Tumalog Falls and Kawasan Falls.