Whale Sharks In Oslob, Cebu: Of Maintaining The Required Distance And Everything Else

I initially planned to start this article with un-tampered zeal about my first encounter with Oslob’s whale sharks but had a change of heart after some friends raised the whale shark controversy that spurned last summer in Boljoon, Cebu. The gravity of the issue was heightened when I posted a photo of me swimming with a whale shark in Facebook and a friend’s comment started sounding like an indirect implication of my possible ignorance about the matter; which, admittedly, irritated and shamed me, at the same time. The feeling reminded me of my Pot Phong experience which left an unlikely taste in my mouth.

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The photo above was the one uploaded in Facebook. I was completely aware that I needed to be 5-meters away from the whale shark but I think I was farther than that (although I have to admit that the camera trick worked here). Why was I certain? Simple, I was too scared to be near them and panicked when I saw them swimming towards where I was happily watching them from a too-good distance.

So how should I write this piece? I have been prolonging the idea of finishing the article because I am confronted with the dilemma of sounding like a ‘Yes Man’. I wanted to write an honest piece without causing any online outrage likened to what happened earlier this year.

Before we went on our trip, my friends have repeatedly reminded me of the rules of whale shark diving in Oslob, Cebu in the Philippines. These same rules were shared during the required orientation and during the actual dive. So you could just imagine what a nuisance it was to still be delicately tested of my knowledge of the rules after the dive.

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For the benefit of those who are not yet aware of the code of conduct then let me list them down for you.

DOs:

  • Remove all biodegradable sunblock and oil before entering the water.
  • Enter the water from the boat as slowly and quietly as possible.
  • When on the boat, you are required to wear your life vest.
  • Maintain a minimum distance from the whale shark of 5 meters if you are near the head/body and 6 meters if you are near the tail.
  • It is mandatory to swim with a guide.

DONT’s:

  • Do not touch the whale sharks.
  • Do not jump from the boat.
  • Do not use flash underwater.
  • Do not touch nor kick the corals.
  • Do not take anything from the sea.
  • Do not leave your trash behind.

The whale shark diving was the first in the list in our road trip itinerary but we arrived at 1pm in Oslob, Cebu; which meant that we were 30 minutes late. Feeding and interaction time of the whale sharks or ‘tuki’ as how the locals would refer to them is only from 6am to 12:30pm. The LGU in-charge is very firm on this as they do not want the whale sharks to completely depend on this tourism endeavor for survival. It was admitted that the eating habits of the whale sharks have been altered due to this popular tourist activity and as of the moment, studies by a marine organization are continuously being conducted to monitor the extent of this unnatural change and to provide people with data or tools that will aid the Authorities in properly managing the activity as well as in making informed decisions for sustainability.

We came back early the next day.

Orientation in Oslob, Cebu

After the Boljoon hullabaloo where a curious woman mistook the whale shark for a surfboard and the locals turned the shallow coast into a petting zoo, the LGUs have been more careful and have adopted precautionary initiatives to protect both onlookers and the whale sharks alike; hence explaining the registration and orientation process.  The whole process will only take 15-30 minutes, depending if there were many questions raised. The government staff will gladly answer all your queries before sending you off.

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If you’re worried about your valuables, stop fretting. You have an option to bring your stuff on board the boat but this might not be such a good idea because they might get wet. You can, however, rent a locker; ours cost Php50 each. It included usage of the resort’s shower cubicles and a reusable plastic bag for your wet clothes.

Five minutes after we sailed off, we saw our first whale shark. It was beautiful. I was amazed at how gracefully it glided towards where a sea patrol was stationed. Not a single splash nor swoosh can be heard; so unlike other sea creatures which always made its presence felt. For instance, a dolphin will come splashing about or an actual carnivorous shark would stick its first dorsal fin out on the surface to announce your impending doom; but not a whale shark. This gentle, long-living migratory specie softly streams through the ocean water to where microscopic plants and animals flourished.

Oslob Tuki

Although our guide and the sea patrol have consistently assured me that they were harmless and will not attempt to devour me, I still kept my distance. So when one whale shark all of sudden appeared behind me while I was eyeing another, I panicked and almost drowned despite my life saving skills. Thank God for the sea patrol who scooped me out of the sandwich situation that I was in and swam beside me towards our boat!

Tutu On The Run panicking underwater

This experience was one of the setbacks that sprang from this tourism activity. The whale sharks have become so accustomed to having people around that they would approach swimmers without fear. Let us be reminded that not all swimmers are as harmless as the tourists that day; the scarier part is the fact that sometimes the harm caused by swimmers (or onlookers) are not even intentional.

Swimming with Oslob Tukis

During our 30-minute swim in the area, I have found myself flapping like crazy away from the whale sharks one too many times because no matter how you try to keep your 5 and 6-meter distance from them, they will swim towards you anyway. The sea patrol though, tried their mightiest to manage everyone’s well being without compromising the whale sharks’. My blogger friends actually made fun of me because I spent most of my time sitting on the boat’s rope and dipping my face in the water to look at the whale sharks.

While I was doing so, I discovered that the location that we were in may not be so ideal for the whale sharks. In fact, this was even raised by my friend when we were observing the photos. The depth of where the whale sharks were may not be deep enough. Please observe how the tails of the whale sharks curved sideways in the photos below to accommodate the upright position of their bodies while they were being fed.

Depth of Whale Shark Feeding in Oslob

I have limited knowledge about marine life but that angle of the body, in my book, can be considered odd. (You may correct me if I am wrong or if you disagree in the comments section.)

When our time was over, I got back on the boat without a moment’s delay because I was perfectly contented with my brief encounter. My blogger friends, however, were still happily frolicking underwater which made me scratch my head because they seemed to be enjoying the experience more but wouldn’t want the world to know of this escapade.

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While on our way back to shore, I struggled about many things. It is right that the tourist activity was indeed unnatural and I agree with what some bloggers are fighting for – that any wildlife specie should not be fed by humans; but for a situation such as the whale sharks in Oslob, how can stopping the activity ensure the safety of the whale sharks now that they have become dependent and the natural status quo has been (sadly) altered? What sustainable, eco-friendly activities, independent from the provisioning ones, can be applied in exchange for giving up the tourism project that stockpiled monetary reward and has, in fact, became the window to other tourism projects in the community? What are the chances of these whale sharks migrating to another place and ending up being harmed or worst, killed because of ignorance?

I only have questions but I do not have the answers. However, I believe that in the near future, I will have my answers; but for now, waiting may be the best prerogative. Wait, while studies are still being conducted. Wait, while other initiatives are being discussed and explored for the benefit of both the community and whale sharks. We cannot change the fact that the status quo has been altered, changing it back will also take time; hence, the process has to be done slowly but with the assurance of success. We cannot just wake up one morning and say ‘stop’ after it has ran like that for some time.

I’m not a patient person but in this case, I will gladly wait if it meant putting things back to its natural order.

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Comments

  1. Ate Den! Ako ba yang sinasabi mo? Haha! Sorry naman 🙂 Labyu!

  2. I had the chance to visit the whale sharks last December. I missed them when I was their 3 Decembers ago. Love the way you write. It’s really a story. Mine was more information. 🙂

    • @Caludine, thank you for taking the time to read my articles, so what’s your stance on the whaleshark hullabaloo? lol…information is good too, quite helpful…we all have our own style and each style is unique!

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