Trip to Oslob, the Philippines to See the Whale Sharks
Well, my intrepid better half and myself finally made our way down (up, actually) to Oslob on the island of Cebu to see the whale sharks. We had been planning to go for quite a while now – on a Monday morning as that is Michell’s day off – but the weather has been thoroughly uncooperative. Finally, we noticed a break in the weather for this past Monday so we jumped on it.
And even though it was cloudy and rained on the way home for a bit, we got very lucky as it wasn’t raining during our foray and the clouds blocked most of the sun.
We loaded up the YBR on Sunday night and set the alarm for 4:45 AM. Jumping out of bed the next morning, we got ourselves together, hopped on the bike and “blasted” (it’s only a 10 HP motorcycle) up to Sibulan to catch the earliest Roll On-Roll Off ferry. With the motorcycle and the two of us, it was only 300 pesos round tip – making this Kuripot Kano very happy. The ferry ride is only about 30 minutes, and once on the other side, we too time for breakfast. I honestly told Michell it was the best carrendaria I have ever eaten at. (It’s just to the right as you ride out of the port.) There was also an artist somewhere around as two murals had been painted on the wall. One of them – John Lennon, I believe – was remarkably good.
From the port at Santander, it is only 12 KM to Oslob. We pulled in at one of the bigger sites (Butanding Viewing Center) and joined the already growing throngs of tourists. Even though it was only about 7 AM, there were a good number of people out in the water. One of the workers (Sea Wardens) told me it is even worse in the afternoon, as convoys of vans roll in from Cebu City which is three hours to the north.
First up was the “interaction briefing.” A young Filipina recited what we can and cannot do when it comes to being close to the sharks. Failure to comply with these rules can result in 6 months in jail. (Try explaining that one to the other guys in your cellblock….)
Once the briefing was over, we zipped over and ponied up our pesos. For foreigner it is 1,000 pesos to swim with the sharks – for a Filipino it is 500 pesos. Some expats get all upset at this price discrepancy, but keep in mind three things: 1) For many people, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, 2) Foriegn tourists usally have more free cash than Filipinos, and 3) at Disneyworld, if you are Florida resident you get a significant discount – if you’re not, you pay a lot more. All in all, it’s a very inexpensive Philippines adventure!
Snorkeling equipment (mask and snorkel – no fins) were part of the price. I had brought my own gear and was glad that I had my fins as the sharks are pretty durn quick. We both got fitted for flotation vests (you can take it off later once you reach the whales) and Michell got her snorkeling gear.
And then it was time to swim with the sharks.
We loaded onto a small banca (outrigger canoe that you see all over the Philippines) and paddled out a short ways. Right away, you could see the sharks feeding along the surface, inhaling shrimp that the Filipino Sea Wardens were tossing their way. We were only allowed 30 minutes in the water, so I shucked on my gear and dived right in.
Bam – wall to wall whales….
Now, keep in mind that whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, with reports of some reaching over 14 meters (46 feet) long. Combine that with a weight of 30 metric tons (66,000 pounds), and you’ve got a pretty big fish on your hands. Or, to quote a great movie, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat……”
Whale sharks can live up to 70 years, live in warm, tropical waters (like the Philippines!), and feed mainly on plankton and small shrimp, filtering their dinner through their enormous mouths. They are a filter feeder (like some whales) but also have many rows of tiny but sharp teeth. Luckily, they don’t see people as food – just (as in Oslob) annoying creatures in the way of their breakfast.
I started filming with my trusty GoPro Hero 2 (with special, dive casing), but I was so caught up in the excitement that some of the framing was a little off when I finally got home and reviewed it. There were a lot of people swimming around and more than a few whale sharks, so you had to pay attention to what was around you. There were also a number of scuba divers down below which gave me the idea to dive down underneath one of the sharks and got some footage of one of them silhouetted against the brighter surface – that part came out good and you can see it in the video. After a while, I remembered that I had a girlfriend somewhere out here, so I surfaced and finally found her. Shortly thereafter it was time to go back to the boat. I grabbed Michell and started towing her. A minute later and Michell started screaming – I was swimming backwards and didn’t see the huge whale shark that we almost smashed into. Phew.
We got back on the boat and returned to sold ground. Turning in our gear and taking a quick fresh water shower (changing rooms and showers are provided), we then shot the final part of the video, covering our impressions of the adventure, finally concluding that it was a pretty awesome experience.
Some conservation groups do not like seeing whale sharks being fed for tourism purposes. I see and respect their position, but when all is said and done, I still enjoyed the experience. Yes, whale sharks are wild creatures and shouldn’t depend on handouts from humans, but all involved seem to be having a good time.
We were done with our whale shark experience by 8:30 AM. We had some time to spare, so we decided to head off to a nearby waterfall. We’ll cover that side trip in our next blog entry.
Ferry (round trip) 300
Viewing Fees 1500
Total: 1924 pesos / $43 US Dollars