Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob was perhaps one of the most fulfilling experiences of our entire lives. Being in the water, only a few feet away from a creature 5 times our size made us feel small yet grateful to be part of such a wonderful world. However, as amazing as this experience was, it is important as responsible travellers to understand the implications of interrupting the natural habitat of these gentle giants in order to interact with them.
When it comes to the Oslob whale shark watching center, answering this question is quite challenging, especially because so many controversies have been raised around the subject. Many articles accuse the center of disrupting the whale sharks’ migration patterns and of poorly treating the animals. While these allegations spark an interesting debate, they don’t take into consideration a larger threat to the whale shark species. Looking deeper into this issue will make you reconsider whether the Oslob whale shark center is worth the visit.
Quick facts about Whale Sharks
- Whale sharks are filter feeders that get their food from planktons. Consequently they are harmless to humans.
- They can reach 11 to 12 meters in length and weigh up to 20 tons or more.
- They can live up to 70 years.
- Like fingerprints, their pattern of white spots is unique to each whale.
- They have recently been classified as endangered by IUCN red list and this is mainly due to poor fishing ethics in southern China and the whale shark fin trade that supplies the production of Chinese medicines.
Rules and regulations of the center
It is clear that the whale shark watching center is operating with an awareness for the environment and for the safety of the whale sharks. Before any interaction with the gentle giants, the center presents visitors with information to ensure a safe experience for both the whale sharks and visitors. The rules and regulations include:
- Whale sharks are not enclosed nor caged but rather temporarily guided closer to shore through regulated feeding sessions occuring daily between 6 AM and noon.
- A minimum of 4-meter distance must be kept between swimmers and the whale sharks. Touching the whale sharks is completely prohibited. Failing to follow this guideline will result in a fine of 56USD or even some jail time.
- It is crucial not to apply any sunscreen, skin oil or lotion before going in the water. Keeping the water pollutant free is critical.
- Flash photography is not permitted.
While these rules provide the basis for safe interaction, they do get broken from time to time mainly due to irresponsible tourists or unethical workers. This does not necessarily mean that the center operates poorly or from flawed ecological values. This can be ameliorated by speaking up about the importance of following the guidelines or providing feedback to management when workers and guests are not respecting the rules.
Ecotourism ethical behavior
There’s concern that the Oslob whale shark watching center is contributing to the shift in migration patterns of these gentle giants as regular feeding sessions are incentivising the sharks to stay near the Oslob Center shores. While this issue is disrupting normal conditions, it may in fact be beneficial for the species’ survival. Chinese fishing industries are heavily targeting the whale sharks in their natural migration patterns, poaching them for their fins and meat. Breaking them from their pattern of going to southern Chinese shores could be key to their survival as an endangered species.
Whale shark watching in Oslob has highly contributed in the increase of tourists in Cebu, providing a major boost to the local economy. It helped create many job opportunities, develop infrastructure, and services, etc. Aside from its environmental awareness, this initiative is also contributing to the development of the local community.
The whale shark watching center in Oslob operates clearly with the mindful intention of protecting and preserving the whale sharks. They are working on providing visitors with a safe and pleasant interaction with the gentle giants by implementing thorough rules and regulations. They are indirectly saving the species from massive poaching by the Chinese fishing industries. And they are contributing in the development of the local community. With that being said, we found no specific reason not to support this initiative even if it still requires more attention in terms of ethical behavior. It is a project in progress and perfection cannot be attained by night. Therefore, it is far better to encourage its improvement rather than chose to boycott it and denounce its integrity.
Best time visit the whale sharks?
The best time to visit the whale sharks is between November and May. It is preferable to go during weekdays, as it can get crowded in the weekends.
How to get there from Cebu City?
- By bus: Go to the South Bus Terminal and take Ceres Bus going to Oslob (fee around 4USD). Check the Ceres Bus schedule.
- By service vehicle: you can drive directly to the feeding site of the whale sharks. (Check location)
How long does it take to get there?
Depending on traffic it takes around 4 hours to get from Cebu City to Oslob. If you have your own vehicle, it is advisable to leave early morning before 7:00AM or later at night after 9:00PM.
Fees and charges for 2016
- Watching: 11USD/person
- Snorkeling: 21USD/person
- Diving: 32USD/person (excluding diving equipment)
* Tickets are good for 30min only
Where to stay?
Many resorts are scattered near the whale sharks watching center. The prices are quiet high starting at 20USD/night. However, it is also possible to find camping sites within the resorts as we did in Cloud and sky (fee = 2USD/person/night)
Where to eat?
Seafood lovers will have blast around Oslob as fresh ingredients are daily collected. Restaurants are scattered along the coastline and prices are always affordable.
- Visit the waterfalls like Kawasan and Aginid falls.
- Snorkel next to Sumilong Island.
- Roadtrip around Cebu Island