We’ve swum with Whale Sharks!
We’re not bragging. It’s a fact!
Ok, we ARE bragging…
To be honest, when we came to Oslob (specifically the barangay of Tan-awan, as we’ve been corrected), we came with the expectation that we would have a chance to go out on a boat to see the whale sharks. The experience we had far exceeded our wildest dreams. I have to say this again… WE GOT TO SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS!
It’s cliche, I know, but it’s really hard to put into words the experience of being in such close quarters with these majestic creatures.
First off, they are HUGE (duh)!
Beside feeling utterly dwarfed by these beautiful creatures, this poses a problem for us photography-wise because it is almost impossible to take a photo of a full shark.
And as you can see, we got to be in really close quarters with these behemoths, even though we’d been warned to keep at least 3 metres away from the whale sharks. Jo claims there was an instant when one of them brushed against her.
We couldn’t help it, the whale sharks just followed the fishermen who were hand feeding them from their little dug out canoes.
It was actually a bit scary being so close to such a large creature that was in a state of feeding. A creature whose mouth is a vacuum bigger than an average human being…
The fear was not allayed by the rather bad visibility.
You never know when a whale shark is gonna pop out beside you. Some of us figured we should watch the fishermen feeding the whale sharks, but I found a better way… a secret technique, if you will.
Insider Tip: Listen to Jo. She lets out the most hair raising shrieks whenever a whale shark is within 10 metres from us.
To be honest, we felt a bit guilty being there. We know that the practice of feeding the sharks is totally unnatural. It causes the whale sharks to associate small boats with food… Not entirely a good thing considering that some of the small boats in other regions are actually out hunting them for their meat and fins, not to mention the very real possibility of them being accidentally injured by the outboard motors on some of these vessels.
Raphael had also told us stories of abuse by tourists swimming with the whale sharks. Apparently there were pictures circulating on Facebook of a girl “surfing” on one of the whale sharks. Although the location of the incident had since been confirmed to have occurred with a stranded whale shark in Booljoon, given the proximity we were able to get to the whale sharks, the same thing could easily have been replicated here.
From what we’ve seen, although we were given quite a detailed briefing on the do’s and don’ts of swimming with the whale sharks (no feeding of the whale shark, keep at least three metres from the whale sharks, no strobe photography, ABSOLUTELY no physical contact with the whale sharks), the operators running the boat trips are not THAT sharp on stopping us from going too near to the whale sharks. To be fair to them, tourist attention came very recently and very suddenly upon them. They are still learning and steps are being put in place so the whole operation can hopefully be more smoothly run after some time.
Marilyn (from our guest house) told us that the villagers at Tan-awan had actually been feeding the whale sharks for decades. Every year, when the whale sharks migrated to the region, they disrupted the local fishermens’ livelihood because they scared away all the fish in the area. The local fishermen initially tried to get rid of these “pests” by chasing them away with spears and throwing rocks into the whale sharks’ open mouth. One of the villagers turned to another tact.
He “befriended” the whale sharks by feeding them prawns and luring them away while his partner did the fishing. It seemed to be the only way that worked and the method caught on. Some fishermen would lure the whale sharks away with prawns caught the night before, while others fished.
This move paid off when a dive centre nearby saw what the fishermen were doing and paid them to bring the whale sharks closer for their divers. Word spread, and these days, the fishermen probably make more money with the tourists than they do with their fishing.
Now, the local municipal government tried to control the deluge of tourists coming in by limiting the number of fishermen “allowed” to feed the whale sharks, as well as the number of tourists in the water at any one time. The price for seeing the whale shark was also sharply increased for foreigners (on the VERY day we arrived in Oslob) to generate more cash for the conservation of the whale sharks (or so they say…). Cheapos that we are, this is also the story of how we were registered as Filipinos “Romeo” and “Juliet” in the signing up sheet. True Story.
As far as we know, there are three main operators that bring tourists out to see the whale sharks in Tan-awan. One such operation runs out of M8 Sunrise View where we stayed. All the operations link up with the 14 fishermen authorized by the government to feed the whale sharks.