For years, I’ve avoided getting caught in the tourist trap that is Oslob. I’ve heard horrible stories about this place when it comes to whale shark watching. The whale sharks are fed to keep them coming back to the area, and hoards of people plague the waters to swim, touch, and take photos with the poor whale sharks.
Oslob can be found in Cebu and is an approximately 2-hour drive. Since I spend so much time in Cebu, I’ve run out of places to go, and finally swallowed my guilt and made my way to Oslob.
I’ll cut to the chase – it was magical.
Whale Shark Encounter in Oslob
The Whale Shark Watching area is not at all far from the shore, and there are hundreds of resorts offering the experience along the coast. We drove down the road and found Brumini Resort, which was one of the lesser crowded resorts out there.
From the looks of the place, Brumini is more expensive than most of the other resorts, but it didn’t matter because we weren’t spending the night. But space mattered because every other resort was packed. There were so many people arranging their time for the whale shark experience, and it can really be stressful.
Luckily, however, not a lot of people go there to dive. The visitors are mostly locals, but there are a lot of tourists as well, and they go snorkeling. This meant that getting to snorkel with the whale sharks involves a lot of waiting. There is a waiting area for all the snorkelers, and they are called by number to board the boats encircling the whale shark area.
Here’s the good part – the whale shark experience is finally regulated.
So it doesn’t matter which resort you go to because all the resorts have to go through a central agency managing the whole operation. Here‘s a list of fees for snorkelers, and here‘s the one for divers. The packages include transportation and accommodation so diving or snorkeling alone will have a much lower rate.
Diving with the Whale Sharks
Back to diving. At Brumini Resort, we paid Php 3,000 per person for the dive with the Whale Sharks, plus a day trip to Sumilon Island (I will talk about it some other time). We were also the only divers at the time and were able to cut through the really long line of snorkelers.
There were easily five juvenile whale sharks at a time. I lost count, because it was simply mesmerizing. They were so used to people that they didn’t really care about us – they would swim around the area, and you would really have to be careful not to be run over. They may be juvenile, but they are HUGE.
There is absolutely nothing else to see. No reef, no corals, a few stray fish. The main attraction is the whale shark, and there really is no reason to look for anything else.
A Small Improvement at Oslob
So what kept my conscience from eating me up inside for giving into this tourist trap? The whole place has changed, and I have never seen an operation so organized:
- Snorkeler boats are no longer scattered all over the area, and neither are the snorkelers. The boats are neatly arranged around a perimeter, and snorkelers are not allowed to go beyond the perimeter. There’s a huge space at the center where the whale sharks gather
- Touching the whale sharks is not allowed. There is a fine for doing so, but I forgot how much. I first thought that this was not implemented, something to scare us off, but even our dive master was afraid of getting too close because even they will be fined
- There were marine biologists everywhere. They were there to both police the guests and make sure nobody goes out of line, and to police the boatmen and operators to make sure that they are following regulations
It’s still not the most ideal situation. The whale sharks still are fed, not only to keep them in the area, but because they’ve been so used to it as well. One of the resort owners said that the community has overfished at Oslob, which was also a natural feeding ground for the juvenile whale sharks, and it is their way of keeping the juveniles alive. How true that is, I’ll never know.
I still sometimes feel guilty about visiting this place, but the allure of these gentle giants is too strong. The least any of us can do is to adhere closely to the regulations set in place to protect both the sharks and the guests. I will probably never go back to this place again, but these are images that will stay with me for a lifetime.