Swimming With Whale Sharks

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Swimming with whale sharks has been on my bucket list since the instant I found out I could. I am a huge lover of any and all things marine. My husband generally has to drag me from the water when we’re snorkeling or diving — I could stay down there all day.

Generally, there are three places in the Philippines to swim with whale sharks — Oslob in Cebu, Donsol in Luzon, and Pintuyan in Leyte. Because we only had four days for our trip, we decided on Oslob for time’s sake. We would have preferred to try out Pintuyan or Donsol after doing our research, but it wouldn’t have left us time to see or do anything else.

Oslob is a great area with a ton of really cool things to do and see — although we don’t recommend the whale shark experience there, we still recommend Oslob. It’s an awesome trip even without the sharks, especially if you stay at Villa Modern Deluxe.

The sharks themselves were breathtaking. We were in awe of being so close to something so massive. They were totally beautiful, impeccable creatures. But here’s why we recommend taking the extra time and effort to see the whale sharks in Pintuyan rather than Oslob:

In Oslob, the whale sharks are baited, and I mean heavily baited. They lure the sharks so close to the beach that you don’t even need to take a boat out if you don’t want to. There’s a ring of single-man rafts throwing krill literally into the mouths of the sharks, parading them around in a circuit past boats with tourists in them. The tourist boats hold about five or six people. After a briefing on the rules and regulations of interacting with the sharks, you receive a mask and snorkel and are taken out to the conga line of whale sharks to swim with them around your boat for 30 minutes.

*Tip: If you do end up swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob, don’t pay to do it. There are several companies and tour agencies shuffling people in and out of boats, but if you bring or rent a mask, you don’t need to book with anyone. You can literally swim out and see them yourself – no guide necessary. Also, you won’t be monetarily encouraging the baiting of the sharks.

30 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, but being in the water is incredibly uncomfortable. We couldn’t decide if it was the krill they were feeding to the sharks or if there were tiny jellyfish in the water, but something was stinging every inch of exposed skin on our bodies. It wasn’t severe enough to leave marks or get us out of the water, but it was insanely distracting and made being under an awfully antsy experience.

*Tip: Again, if you must go to Oslob, wear long sleeves and/or pants in the water to prevent whatever stinging it was we felt. After I put on a long sleeve rashguard, my upper body felt much better. 

Finally, while you are briefed to stay at least four meters away from the sharks, the tight, circular procession ensures no way to feasibly follow that rule. I was wedged between shark and boat with no where to go and was, on more than one occasion, brushed by a tail or fin. Even the feeders are routinely touching the sharks, pushing them with their feet, to keep them from rubbing up against the boats — which the sharks are constantly bumping into.

*Overall Tip: Check out the experience in Donsol or Pintuyan instead!

While I can’t deny that swimming with the whale sharks was amazing, I wish I could have left with more positive feelings about it. No matter what all the briefings and ads say, we did not feel that Oslob put the sharks’ well-being first. These whale sharks were no longer ‘wild,’ and the experience felt like an aquarium without walls.

Questions or comments? Leave them below.

Travel on, Beaches 🙂

-M.

 

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