Swimming With Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines

Published Categorized as Philippines Travel, Asia Travel, Destinations, Travel Blog
Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines
Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines

The whale sharks Oslob experience? – should you visit or not?

Prior to organising our trip to the Philippines, we had heard about the Oslob whale shark experience and added it to our list of things we wanted to do. The opportunity to come face-to-face with one of these beautiful creatures was at the top of our list of must-do big animal encounters. However, we had also read the controversy surrounding this experience.

With all that information in mind, we decided we would visit and make up our own mind. We hope by the end of this post, you will have the information you need to make an informed decision on whether or not to visit.


“We owe it to our children to be better stewards of the environment. The alternative? A world without whales. It’s too terrible to imagine.”

– Pierce Brosnan –

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


Whale Sharks

Growing to lengths of 18 metres (60 feet) and weighing as much as 19,000 kilograms (21 tons), whale sharks are one of the ocean’s largest species of shark in the sea. These gentle giants are found in tropical and warm temperate seas around the world, and are known to inhabit both deep and shallow coastal waters of coral atolls and reefs. They cruise along the surface of the water swimming with their mouths wide open collecting plankton and small fish.

There are a number of destinations around the world where you can have an up-close encounter with whale sharks. These include:

  • Isla Holbox, Cabo San Lucas, Isla Mujeres and La Pas, Mexico
  • Placencia, Belize
  • Utila, Honduras
  • Cocos Island, Costa Rica
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Tofo Beach, Mozambique
  • Mafia Island, Tanzania
  • Ningaloo Reef, Australia
  • South Ari Atoll, the Maldives
  • Cenderawasih Bay and Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Of these spots, only a few are easy to travel to and have easy access from the shore. Due to this fact, Oslob on Cebu Island in the Philippines has become a hotspot for tourists wanting to swim with whale sharks.

Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines
Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu

The local fishermen were frustrated by the whale sharks who used to feed on the same shrimp the fishermen were trying to catch, often destroying their nets in the process. Rather than attempt to chase the whales away, they discovered that if they fed them a small portion of krill they could lure the whale sharks away from the fishing boats.

This was discovered by the local divers in the region and they started paying the fishermen to lure the whale sharks to their dive boats. Swimming with whale sharks in Oslob first became popular in November 2011 when photos of snorkelers swimming with whale sharks were published in an international newspaper.

In 2012, local fishermen formed a partnership with local government authorities and formed the “Oslob Whale Sharks (OWS)” and by the end of 2012, this major tourism attraction was drawing nearly 100,000 visitors a year.


General Information

Location

Tan-awan, a small barangay 10 kilometres from the town centre of Oslob on Cebu Island.

image 5

How to Get There

By Bus: We took (and recommend) a Ceres bus from the Cebu South Bus Terminal to “Bato-Oslob”. All buses bound for Oslob operate hourly 24/7. A bus ticket will cost 120–190 peso per person one way. If you choose this method of transportation, arrive the day before and ask the driver to drop you off at, or close, to your accommodation.

By Taxi / Private Driver: It is 116 kilometres from Cebu to Oslob and will take you approximately 1 hour 40 mins depending on traffic congestion. Expect to pay 1700-4000 peso depending on your negotiating skills.


Opening Hours

Swimming with whale sharks is available daily from 6:00am to 12:00pm 

There is a maximum daily limit of 1000 guests so it is recommended to book online early to avoid disappointment. Book here: https://discover.cebu.gov.ph/tour/oslob-whaleshark-interaction/


Tickets and Admission

  • Filipino Tourists – 1000 peso
  • Foreign Tourists – 2000 peso (AUD$54 / USD$42)

Swimming and snorkelling experiences are limited in time and people, and done in 30 minute batches. Prior to your in-water experience, there is a briefing about the Whale Sharks and rules to be observed during the activity.


The Experience

Briefing Upon Arrival

Before snorkelers are allowed to enter the water, they must first sit through an information session and briefing that outlines the do’s and don’ts of snorkelling / swimming with the sharks.

DO’s

  1. Enter slowly from the boat into the water.
  2. Wearing a life vest is mandatory (included in the ticket cost).
  3. Stay a minimum of 5 metres distance away from the whale shark.
  4. Remove biodegradable sunblock and oils before entering the water.

DONT’S

  1. Do not touch or chase a whale shark.
  2. Do not restrict normal movement or behaviour of the whale shark.
  3. Do not use a flash or video lights on cameras.
  4. Do not touch, kick or stand on the corals.
  5. Don’t take anything out of the sea.
  6. No feeding of whale sharks by unauthorised personnel.
Oslob Whale Sharks
Oslob Whale Sharks

The In-Water Experience

One of the reasons for the popularity of whale shark encounters in Oslob is that the interactions take place very close to shore. Once your batch is called, your group is seated on a small outrigger canoe where you are rowed about 60 meters off-shore to a row of buoys to which all the boats anchor. The interaction / snorkelling area is inside this cordoned off area, roughly the same length as a soccer field, and the water is about 10 metres deep.

Once all boats are anchored, the captains start throwing out ‘uyap’ (the local variety of krill) to attract the whale sharks. Feeding takes place between 6am and 1pm every day and the number of sharks that show varies from a one to as many as two dozen.

Once feeding began, about 6 whale sharks immediately approached our boat and we were given permission to climb into the water. At times, the experience was a little overwhelming as over-excited, selfish people tried desperately to get selfies with the whale sharks. This made it near impossible for those of us that also wanted to see the whale sharks and take a photograph without the crowds.

The whale sharks are not restricted in any way and they can come and go as they please. It is the humans that are directed to stay within the interaction / snorkelling area.

Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines
Whale Sharks Oslob, Philippines

The Concerns About Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob

There have been many articles written about swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob over the years, both positive and negative. From our extensive reading around the subject, the main concerns we identified that have been raised by animal welfare organisations and tourists alike, are based around the following issues:


1. Feeding Practices Modify the Shark’s Behaviour

One of the greatest concerns is based around the impact of daily feeding of the whale sharks and how this modifies the shark’s natural behaviours. This daily reinforcement teaches them that boats and humans mean food, which can create risks for the whale sharks when they travel outside of the protected waters in Oslob i.e. wrongly approaching fishing boats instead of avoiding them.


2. Malnutrition

One of the main reasons Oslob is able to offer tourists the ability to swim and snorkel with whale sharks is because they are fed daily over a six hour period which encourages the whale sharks to keep returning to this area. They are only fed one type of krill (uyap) which is purchased in bulk, however, this lack of diversity in their diet means they are missing out on other key components which they would naturally get in the wild.

noaa a7T0PQol 6E unsplash

3. Migration Patterns of Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are a naturally nomadic species and have been known to travel thousands of miles a year. The concern is that if the whale sharks are fed daily and therefore choose to keep returning to Oslob, this practice will then effect their natural migration and breeding patterns. As a result, it has been predicted this may alter their mating and breeding habits, resulting in a decrease in reproduction.


4. Human Interaction / Change in Behaviour

Prior to your whale shark experience, the briefing clearly outlines it is forbidden to touch or interact with the whale sharks when you are in the water. Touching the sharks remove the mucous layer protecting them against infections.

Unfortunately, with up to 1000 visitors each day, it is inevitable there is some contact either by accident or through a complete disregard by some tourists to follow the rules. In addition, we did not personally see this rule enforced during our experience by the local guides.

The other concern directly related to this issue is that whale sharks have now learnt to associate non-tourist related boats and people with food. This has caused injuries to the whale sharks due to boat propellers and oars when they come too close.


Positive Outcomes from the Whale Shark Experience in Oslob

1. Whale Shark Protection

Whale sharks were regularly hunted and slaughtered in the Philippines for their meat and fins for the Asian market. This led to an enormous decrease in the whale shark population and resulted in them being an endangered species. Where whale sharks were once actively hunted for food in the Philippines, they now enjoy a degree of protective status in the island nation due to their newer found value in tourism.

Funds generated from whale shark tourism is now channelled towards protecting the whale sharks and employing sea wardens to protect the coast. This in turn protects the livelihoods of this community which it now depends on.


2. Job Creation in the Community

Another benefit of the whale shark experiences in Oslob is the provision of a larger source of income and employment to the town. This industry has created many jobs not only for those employed to be a guide or boat driver for the  whale shark tours, but also for those employed to work in the numerous hotels, restaurants, beach-side vendors, and transportation. It has provided local fishermen with a viable alternative to hunting the sharks.

Oslob - Cebu Island, Philippines
Oslob – Cebu Island, Philippines

Swimming with Whale Sharks – What to Bring

You don’t need to bring much to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob, but this is what we think are essential items to pack for your experience.

  1. Dry Bag: We highly recommend keeping all your gear in a dry bag, especially those items you do not want getting wet. Everyone on the boat will get in and out of the water and the boat gets very wet.
  2. Camera: A waterproof phone (or phone in a good waterproof phone case) or camera is a must on this trip due to how picturesque the area is. We took our GoPro and managed to get some magnificent pictures.
  3. Towel: We travel with fast drying microfiber towels so these were dry again by the time we got back to our hotel.
  4. Money: There are a few restaurants and beach-side vendors so it is good to have some extra cash on you. 
  5. Mask and Snorkel: If you don’t already have your own, masks and snorkels are readily available for rent. We always travel with our own masks and snorkels because we use these often so for us, it pays off to have own not only because it is more hygienic, but also rented equipment is not often in the best quality. READ OUR MARES X-VISION DIVE MASK REVIEW or MARES ERGO DRY SNORKEL REVIEW
tusa switch pro package 240x240 1

Accommodation in Oslob, Cebu

Oslob was once a small fishing village, but in the past 10 years, the swimming with whale sharks experience has attracted tourists from all over the world.

Luxury (US$100 and Up)


 Mid-Range (US$30 to US$100)

  • Down South 118 Beach Resort – Private beachfront property featuring an on-site restaurant and sun terrace.
  • Seascape Beach Resort Oslob – Facing the beachfront, Seascape Beach Resort Oslob offers 3-star accommodation and features a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool and sun terrace. 
  • Loti – Beach Front – This guest house offers a private beach area and sun-terrace with ocean views.

 Budget (Up to $US30)

  • La Fela Pension House – Featuring air-conditioned accommodation with a patio, La Fela Pension House offers free private parking, a 24-hour front desk and free WiFi.
  • Luna Oslob Travellers Inn – Well reviewed and centrally located, features a large double room with a shared bathroom.
  • Charlotte’s Inn – This beachfront property offers private rooms with air conditioning and a private bathroom.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN OSLOB AND MAKE A RESERVATION!


Popular Tourist Destinations near Oslob

After swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, there are a number of other nearby attractions that you might be interested in:

  • Cuartel de Oslob – Ruins of Spanish-era Barracks
  • Tumalog Falls
  • Sumilon Island / Sandbar
  • Baluarte Park in Aloguinsan – Ruins of Spanish-era Fort
  • Kanlaob River Canyoneering
  • Kawasan Falls in Badian
  • Snorkelling in Moalboal
  • Swim with Turtles on Apo Island

READ MORE ABOUT WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT MOALBOAL HERE


Other Places to Swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines

Approximately 1600 individual whale sharks have been identified in the Philippines making this the second largest known population of whale sharks in the world. There are however, a number of places to swim with these amazing monsters within the 7000 islands that make up the Philippines. Apart from Oslob, other places to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines are:

1. Tubbataha

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the best places in the country to swim with whale sharks. This protected area of the Philippines is located in the middle of the Sulu Sea and is well known for some of the best diving in the world. Tubbataha is difficult to reach and you can only get the whale shark experience by booking a live-aboard boat. The best time of year to see these magnificent creatures is from mid-March to mid-June.


2. Southern Leyte

Southern Leyte whale shark experiences are known for their responsible interactions and provision of a more authentic experience due to the uncrowded waters.  Places like Sogod Bay and Pintuyan are excellent for sightings. Plan your trip between November and May (migration period) to increase your chances of seeing / swimming with them.


3. Donsol

The Donsol whale shark season is between November and early-June and is leading the way in offering the most ethical and sustainable eco-tourism experience. The only negative is that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark as the boats go out in search of them in the wild.

michael l ZsOcHVjgkfQ unsplash

In Summary

Whilst some people will not agree with us partaking in the experience of swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, what we found was a marine conservation project that, while not perfect, was doing a lot of good.  

As advocates for responsible tourism, we try to provide information on both sides of the argument and give you the ‘whole picture’. By writing this blog post we hope fellow travellers can make an informed decision on whether to choose to participate in this activity or not.

Have you been swimming with whale sharks Oslob? What was your experience like?

Make sure you visit Moalboal if you are in the south of Cebu. Read why you should visit HERE.


Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money5
Cuisine4
Friendliness of Locals5
Ease of Language Barrier5
Climate5
Activities and Tours5
Ease of Travel4.5
Culture Barrier4.5
Safety4
TOTAL EXIT45 RATING42 / 45

Like This Article? Pin It!

Swimming with Whale Sharks - Oslob, Philippines.jpg

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


PREVIOUS BLOG POSTS


RELATED BLOG POSTS

By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.