Swimming with a whale shark in Oslob was a dream of mine ever since we decided to go to the Philippines. Local communities are super lucky to have whale sharks in their waters visiting daily. However, snorkeling with whale sharks in Oslob is a very controversial topic. So why Oslob is such a controversial place among travelers? After our diving experience in Malapascua, we were seriously considering if we should visit Oslob and its locals (whale sharks). We will mention all the facts which you should know before you make a decision.
Many people wonder if they should go to Oslob or if they should skip it. Since the site was opened in 2011, many things have improved, especially the approach to the whale sharks. Thanks to wildlife organizations and devoted biologists things have improved. We won’t say that it’s perfect, but it used to be worse for sure. One thing remains; the whale sharks do not gather naturally at Oslob but are rather attracted by the hand-feeding.
SNORKELING WITH WHALE SHARKS IN OSLOB
Snorkeling with a whale shark in Oslob is considered to be one of the highlights in Cebu. And since the site was opened several years ago a lot has changed. People used to touch whale sharks, to hug them, even to ride them, taking selfies with them. Can you imagine that? Many negative facts indicate that one should rather skip swimming with whale sharks in Oslob.
But there are also positive facts, and we would love to let you know why it might be useful to support this attraction in Oslob. It’s similar to the Rohingya conflict in Myanmar and people saying: I do not want to visit Myanmar because of the things going on there. While genocide is not comparable to how animals are treated/maltreated, it shows that it is crucial to know both sides of a story. Especially if one considers that we are merely visitors and usually don’t have the full picture. We will try to mention all the facts you should know before visiting Oslob. Not only the negative ones but also the positive points about the whale shark attraction in Oslob.
READ MORE: THE BEST THING TO SEE IN CEBU.
Let’s start with the positives and why the attraction exists in the first place, which is definitely something important to take into account. Check the 9 following facts to help you make a decision if you should go or skip it.
1. WHALE SHARKS IN OSLOB USED BE TO KILLED
Most of the people coming to the Philippines or to Oslob do not know that fishing is still the main income for locals. We have spent 1 month traveling in the Philippines and saw a lot of poor villages. Locals often lack running water, toilets and basic things. The Philippines, in general, is considered to be a very poor country. For many Filipinos, fishing is the main source of food, and some time ago, fishing was the main source of income for the people in Oslob.
The problem was that whale sharks eat fish as well, and the local fishermen started to kill them to make sure that they have enough product to sell on the markets to make a living.
2. SUPPORTING LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Finally, someone came up with the idea to feed the whale sharks and attract tourists that are around Cebu anyways. Now the region makes money with tourism; thus locals don’t need to fish nor kill whale sharks.
Many people are not sure if feeding whale sharks and turning them into a tourist attraction is a good thing. Of course not, and we would rather not. But…it’s not that easy, and most stories have several angles to them. Some people might not consider that the whale shark attraction has a positive impact on local communities financially and might keep an endangered species from becoming extinct.
3. NO MORE KILLING FOR FINS, MEAT, OIL, AND SKIN
That’s right, whale sharks are endangered and hunted like most sharks for their fins but also for their meat, oil, and skin. And while we are not sure if the fishermen killed them for their fins (forbidden in the Philippines since 1998) or to protect their local fish population as the official story goes, we do know that whale sharks are not killed in Oslob anymore. And that is a good thing!
4. THERE IS A CODE OF CONDUCT IN PLACE
In the briefing center in Oslob, you will be explained how to behave in the water. There are many rules to follow. These rules will be enforced SO DON’T IGNORE THEM.
- Do not touch, ride or chase a whale shark
- Maintain a distance of 2 meters from the whale sharks’ head and 5 meters from the tail
- No flash photography
- Do not disturb a whale shark while it is eating
- Swim slowly around the whale sharks
- Do not swim in front of the whale shark
- Do not put any sun cream on
- Follow orders from authorized guards and personal
While those might not count as conservation efforts it shows that there is an effort to respect the gentle giants.
The local fish population is the silent winner. The local fish population has been depleted considerably and has now the chance to recover. The whale sharks are fed shrimps that thrive in the local waters. Hence, providing work and income for even more people in the region that fish those shrimps. Also since tourism boomed, more hotels are opening and creating work for the locals. In total there are more than 90 hotels in the small town of Oslob.
READ MORE: PERFECT 2 WEEKS ITINERARY IN THE PHILIPPINES
Let’s look at a few arguments critics bring to the table regarding the whale shark Oslob attraction.
6. WHY WHALE SHARKS KEEP RETURNING TO OSLOB?
The main reason is food. Everyday fishermen are feeding them, and that is why whale sharks are returning to Oslob, or so some people say.
7. LACK OF NUTRITION
Imagine eating the same food EVERY SINGLE DAY. Pizza is great but eating it every day? You will probably get sick of it first (if not, you are weird or lucky). Then our body needs specific nutrition and pizza doesn’t have all the vitamins and minerals a human body needs. Same with whale sharks, they are wild animals and do not eat one type of fish. In Oslob so far, fishermen are feeding whale sharks with one kind of shrimp (uyap).
A solution would be to make sure that whale sharks are getting different kinds of fish, squids, shrimp they are naturally used to. This might be a bit costly but then locals need to adjust the entrance fees and charge higher fees to ensure the whale sharks’ diet is improved. (Please let us know if the feeding has changed so we can update information for other travelers).
8. MIGRATION PROBLEMS
Whale sharks migrate. Until recently, it was not even clear what exactly they do and especially where. It is a very crucial part of their life as they search for food, reproduce and give birth. Being fed every day brings them back to Oslob and might keep them from migrating or at least hinders their traditional migration patterns. However, according to National Geographic, only 4% of them become residents.
9. CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR
Taking both points into consideration, you can already see that feeding whale sharks is unnatural. In the long run, whale sharks’ behavior is changing and they adjusting to new settings that are created by humans. However, no one can really say what it will lead to in the long run.
Also, as you can imagine there are a lot of tourists. Whale sharks are put under a lot of stress due to the masses of visitors around.
OUR EXPERIENCE IN OSLOB
We will not deny it; we did go to Oslob. Of course, we hesitated at first, but we wanted to see it for ourselves and make our opinion on the site. We woke up around 5 AM and went to the site with the help of our hotel. It was still dark, and there was no one at that time. We sat in the waiting room and observed how more and more groups and people arrived. It was incredibly busy. Once the waiting room was full, an employee came and gave us a short presentation about the whale sharks and WHAT NOT TO DO.
The biggest emphasis was on not touching the animals and keeping enough distance from them. The ranger sounded very strict and made it clear to everyone that this IS NOT A JOKE and that offenders will be punished.
Touching the whale sharks is a criminal offence. If you touch a whale shark and if you do not keep at least 2 meters distance, you will pay a HEFTY FINE and might even GO TO JAIL. According to this study around 95% of the visitors brake these rules without intending to do so. It is maianly due to inability, choppy waves or both.
We got on a small boat (barka) with 6 other people and went around 30 meters from shore. We got into the water and the guards were observing us closely and several times called us back when we got to close to the animals. The whole experience took about 20-30 minutes and then we returned to shore.
Honestly speaking, we didn’t feel like the whale sharks were mistreated. On the contrary, the guards were professional and displayed assertiveness otherwise uncommon in Southeast Asia in regards to the whale sharks’ safety. Of course, we can’t say what happened on every single boat that went out there. However, the experience with our crew was very good.
WHALE SHARK SNORKELING IN OSLOB
Once you decide to swim with whale sharks, you will be wearing a west. Sadly during our travels around Southeast Asia, we have seen many people who couldn’t swim (at all). For many people seeing whale sharks and snorkeling for the first time can be a frightening experience. People panic and in our group, at least 6 went back straight to the boat. The girls were scared of the whale sharks and in general of the waves and the snorkeling experience. Subsequently, exactly those inexperienced snorkelers and swimmers are often carried by waves towards the whale sharks. However, then you are being shouted at and you need to get back to the boat to make sure the whale sharks are not disturbed. For us, this was quite fortunate as there were fewer people around and our experience might have been worse with more people around.
We honestly found that the Oslob site was well organized and that none of the sharks were hurt. But again, every time humans have involved someone, or something gets hurt at some point and we don’t know what happens in the shadows. Also, we cannot verify that the whole background story is true. But we do know that those whale sharks (and there were at least a dozen of them) were very much alive.
Instead fed by humans than killed by humans sounds like an okay trade-off but of course, it is not a perfect solution. Besides, there is no proof that the feeding keeps the whale sharks from migrating. But since every Westerner is a marine biologist these days, it has to be true, right?
You are, of course, free to make your own opinion.
As this is a precious and controversial topic, it is very tough to make a decision which is best for locals and the whale sharks. However, if Oslob continues with whale shark watching and swimming, we think that the site needs to be controlled better and a good start would be TO REDUCE the number of visitors per day. If you asked us if we would revisit Oslo, we would answer: NO. However, you need to decide for yourself. We have to say that it is a special experience to see these giants swim close to you. Although we would prefer to see a whale shark during a scuba dive and in their natural habitat, meaning rather stumbling upon on one by chance than have them “conditioned” to appear.
WHALE SHARK DIVING IN OSLOB
If we would go to Oslob again, we would definitely not be swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks, but rather scuba diving, We saw a few divers kneeling on the ground and watching the whale sharks from the bottom, which is for us a better experience than struggling with waves, avoiding other swimmers, drinking salt water, etc. By diving, you can easily ensure that you maintain enough distance from whale sharks.
HOW MUCH IS THE ENTRANCE TO OSLOB?
The prices vary, and they are different for foreigners and locals. The snorkeling experience costs a foreigner 1000 PHP. Diving is, of course, more and costs 1500 PHP. For all prices in Oslob, you can check here.
HOW TO GET TO OSLOB
If you are traveling from Cebu City, then it should take around 4 hours. You need to take a bus from Cebu South Bus Terminal. Cebu City has two bus stations, one for destinations in the north and one for southern ones. We arrived from Malapascua at the North Bus Terminal (close to the airport). From there we had to take a taxi to the South Terminal.
HOW TO BOOK A TOUR TO SEE WHALE SHARKS
The easiest way to book a tour for whale shark watching is to organize it via your hotel or book a tour online. We are not sure if it’s possible to go to the site on your own, but probably it is.
TOUR VIA YOUR HOTEL
If you have limited time and don’t want to waste your holiday on looking for tours once you are in Oslob, we recommend you to book a hotel that states in the description that they will take you to whale sharks.
We stayed one night in Angler’s Hub and Resort and the owners organized everything for us. It’s a family-owned hotel and despite our late arrival (thanks to a broken bus) we still got everything figured out to go snorkeling with the whale sharks the early next morning.
Find all hotels in Oslob here.
If you can’t find any good hotel that organizes a tour, or not sure if they are reliable (some of them could really suck) or just wants to have everything prepared beforehand, book a credible tour here.
IS IT SAFE TO SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS?
Absolutely, whale sharks are not a threat to humans. Please keep enough distance once you are going for a snorkeling tour. This is to ensure to avoid injuries to whale sharks and to yourself.
WHERE ELSE CAN YOU SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS IN THE PHILIPPINES?
Apart from Oslob, you can also swim with whale sharks in Leyte, Tubbataha, and Donsol.
CAN YOU BE SWALLOWED BY WHALE SHARK?
Some people do wonder if you can be swallowed by a whale shark. No, they won’t swallow you for sure, so don’t worry.
We would love to know your opinion for sure. Would you go and swim with whale sharks in Oslob or would you skip it?
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