Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob in the Filipino island of Cebu has become quite a controversial activity, because people are concerned about how domesticated these wild animals have become. They used to migrate naturally, but fishermen started to feed them, to attract tourists. Obviously this has unfortunately disrupted their feeding patterns and resulted in a change in their migration patterns. One slight ‘pro’ to this is that the small fisherman towns of Oslob/ Tanawan have grown and benefited due to the increase in tourism – towns that used to make a living from hunting whales.
I had done a lot of research beforehand and knew what I was letting myself in for with the whale sharks but wanted to see it for myself. After five days in Moalboal, doing my Advanced Scuba Diving course, I caught a local bus to Oslob, changing at Bato in the south of Cebu. After switching to the second bus, I got off in a place called Tan’awan just before Oslob, which was where my hostel was located. It was a bit shabby but right on the beach, a two minute walk to the whale shark departure point, which to be fair couldn’t have been a better location. I paid my 1000 Pesos (the rate in Jan 2018) to the hostel staff and was told to get up for 5am. The next day, by 5:30am we were heading down to the water’s edge, to be the first group in line for the boats going out. We then proceeded to wait there for an hour, while the queue for boats got longer and longer. There was then a safety brief of the rules which was quite good- things like you couldn’t touch them etc, you can’t wear sunscreen in the water with them.
We then headed out in little boats about 20 metres off the shore. We were actually in the very first boat of the day which was cool. There was a line of boats where the fishermen were already feeding the whale sharks- we could see their noses just popping out of the water. The first twenty or so boats carrying tourists parked up in a long line, next to each other and everyone got in the water. It was quite chaotic, loads of splashing and people hanging on to the boats. You weren’t allowed to swim away from your boat either because you have to get back on the same one. Unfortunately the water was still really murky, from the typhoon a few days before and was also quite choppy so we couldn’t really see very far in front of us underwater which probably made it a bit scarier for weaker swimmers. We were unlucky but at least we got to go in! But it was a shame as I’ve seen other people’s photos as a lot clearer than mine.
After what seemed like no time at all, they called for everyone to get back on the boat you came on. It was actually half an hour, but it was difficult trying to get a photo with everyone swimming and kicking you. There are apparently staff in the water with tourists but I didn’t see any- these are to ensure that people don’t get too close to the sharks. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the experience that much, it definitely didn’t feel natural but I was pleased I had done it because it was still amazing to see such a huge animal up close. Also its made me really want to see one in a more natural environment now! We got back to the hostel about 7am and it felt like we’d achieved so much with our day already! We were also lucky we were first ones in because as we walked back, another huge storm broke that went on for about two hours. I don’t know how many boats would have travelled out in that heavy rain because they were only little wooden rickety things.
Around 10am it finally brightened and became a really nice day and I headed out with a group of people on motorbikes to Tumalog Falls, the other activity in Oslob. As waterfalls go, it was absolutely stunning, all the water trickling off different rocks. The water was a muddy brown, assuming from all the recent storms/ typhoons, but it still looked incredible! I researched it afterwards and normally it would be turquoise but it was still amazing. We got the motorbikes back to the hostel and then headed to the beach to go grab something to eat in the café down there. There were two Filipino waiters who were much more interested in singing with a guitar and they were sooo good!
I sunbathed on the beach for an hour despite the pebbles and then caught a bus from Tanawan back to Cebu City. A boy in the group I’d been hanging out with that day was heading up to Cebu City that night too, so it was nice to travel up with someone. I booked into the same hostel as him which turned out to be the nicest hostel I had stayed in my four nights in Cebu City by a long shot! I repacked my bag, and had an early night as I was leaving at 3am to get to the airport to head back home.
The end of my Philippines trip! I would have liked longer on all of the islands but it was still worth it though, and I’d love to go back. One of the reasons I took this shorter trip was to motivate me to keep saving money before hopefully taking a big trip this year, and it definitely did that- everywhere I go in the world, I just want to see more.