Oslob, swimming with whalesharks

Guide to Oslob, Philippines.

Swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob is in a lot of travelers’ must-do things when visiting the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Afterall, whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world and they’re definitely a sight to see.

There are only a handful of places in the world where you can see the whale sharks almost every time. These areas are part of their natural migration patterns. Oslob is one of them. You can also get a 90% chance of seeing them in Donsol, located south of Luzon island, Philippines. However, when I visited Donsol, I was one of the unlucky 10% that didn’t see these gentle giants.

As I was really curious to see the massive whale sharks that can grow as big as a bus, I decided to check out Oslob. In Oslob, you will get 100% chance of seeing not just one but also a couple of whale sharks. The fishermen in the town feed the whale sharks to make them stay in that area.

How to get to Oslob

Oslob is just four hours by bus from Cebu City so visiting the town could be easily part of your South Cebu itinerary – a quick day trip to Oslob is often enough. Whale shark watching in Oslob is only open from 6am to 12noon. There are plenty of agencies that can take you to the area. Or you can tell the bus driver to drop you off the whaleshark viewing point. The fee is 1500 per person.

The Experience

Even when we came as early as 7am, the beach was already packed with tourists. You will notice about 20 boats that have as many as 8 tourists on each of the boats, off the coast where the whale sharks are. After having our lecture about what not to do when swimming with the whale sharks, like touching them, swimming too close to them, etc., we took a small banca with 6 other people. The area where the whale sharks swim is surprisingly very close to beach. Jst about 10 meters away from the coast.

While on the boat, you can already see a couple of whale sharks swimming, while others pop up their heads to be fed by the fishermen. We hopped off the boat and finally had a close encounter with the gentle giants. As much as you want to keep a safe distance from them. They often get so close to you that at times, it’s not impossible for you to accidentally touch them. They are beautiful creatures, with stunning black and white patterns on their backs. They are as big buses. But despite their sheer size and their name, they are so gentle. And they eat nothing but planktons.

However beautiful the experience was getting close to these magnificent creatures, the amount of tourists, and the fact that the migration pattern of these animals are disrupted because of the fishermen feeding them for tourism purposes, is utterly disturbing. There seems to be no control over how many tourists are allowed on the waters. Plenty of times other tourists kicked me. Tourists who are swimming and don’t know the whale sharks are behind them also accidentally kick the whale sharks.

I had mixed emotions after swimming with these creatures. Part of me says I shouldn’t have done it in Oslob, but at the same time, the experience was surreal to get to swim with them. Nevertheless, I’d advice to do whale watching in Donsol (read my blogpost about it) where the whale sharks are not fed to stay and can go on their natural life cycle.

You can find more info about Oslob at this page. Not just about the whale watching, but heaps of other stuff to do in the region.

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Text by Jen Yap, photos by Martien Janssen