For all of the years I have visited Cebu to see my relatives, I had never heard of whales, or whale sharks for that matter, passing by until a road trip with my cousins to Kawasan Falls. They told me how whale sharks (‘butanding’ in Filipino) had been migrating by this small town in Southern Cebu for many years and a Japanese man (so the story goes) told the fisherman to start feeding them so they would stay and people would come to see the whale sharks. The fisherman did as was suggested and hence began the bucket list activity of, “Swimming with the Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu”.I’m pretty lucky to say I’ve done it twice (it helps to have relatives who live nearby 🙂 ), but both times were drastically different because of the time of year. The first time I did it, it was in August and the water was as flat as a piece of paper and crystal clear; so clear we could see the coral and marine biologist divers on the bottom of the sea floor. The whale sharks were also plentiful, perhaps 8-10 of them came for the feeding. However, when we went swimming with the whale sharks a few weeks ago it was so wavy that most of the time I was just trying to hold onto the boat so I wouldn’t run into the whale sharks, and I only counted a few of them around.
Either way, being so close to such large and gentle creatures is amazing and very humbling. When you are in the water swimming alongside them, you realise how small you are on this planet and that all of your selfish desires are literally a drop in the ocean compared to all of the things that live in this world. Most of the whale sharks we swam with were babies as the mothers are too shy to come near the shore. But don’t be fooled by them being so young, they are still the length of a bus (approx. 4 – 6 metres).The whole experience is controlled so as not to alter the natural behaviour of the whale sharks (so they say anyway). There is a quick briefing of the rules before you get into the boat, and as I mentioned earlier, marine biologists are in the water monitoring the whole interaction. I can’t say yet how this whole thing is affecting the whale sharks either negatively or positively, but at least they are taking the cautious side by having controls in place. However, I do worry that the demand may ignite greed and basically put the whale sharks into captivity, but only time will tell.
The whale sharks are only fed for 2 hours from 10AM-12PM daily, that’s when they come close to shore to create the opportunity to swim with them. As the activity gets more and more popular, you need to make sure you get there early so you don’t miss out because of the queue. The drive to Tan-Awan, Oslob is nothing to snooze about either. The 3 hour drive from Cebu City follows the coast and passes through some cute old towns, with old churches and architecture dating back to Spanish rule. As you drive back after swimming with the whale sharks, I highly suggest you stop and explore some of the towns.
The cost for foreigners to swim with the whale sharks is php1000. Filipinos only have to pay php500 (which I luckily got away with!). Your swimming time is 30mins from when you enter the ‘swimming area’ and includes snorkels and a life vest .