Huge dorsal fins on the surface of the water were giving me flash backs to scenes out of Jaws. Thankfully the ‘jaws’ of these sea creatures were not filled with razor sharp daggers but thousands of much smaller teeth that are actually of little use and Aussie tourists were definitely not on the menu.
Whale sharks have been visiting Oslob in the Philippines for years. The local fisherman struck up a friendship with these gentle giants and began feeding them, or do the story goes and now it’s a daily occurrence. These filter feeders visit the same beach front spot just about every morning to collect their breakfast and greet the tourists in awe of these seemingly tame leviathan fish (I can’t believe I actually used that word in a sentence, I hope I got it right, I’ve been wanting to use it since a colleague told me her news director told her it wasn’t appropriate for a news report- not colloquial, let’s learn a new word. Leviathan= large aquatic creature. And if you knew that already, yay you!).
It was a mix of anticipation and trepidation jumping in the water, everything happened so quickly from the moment we arrived at the beach. It was quite a journey to get to Oslob, a 4am departure from our resort on Mactan Island, Cebu saw us arrive around 7am. A quick safety briefing, we parted with 1000 pesos each (around $25AUD), were handed a mask snorkel and life jacket and helped up into a small outrigger style canoe and we were off.
The whales come in about 30 meters from the shoreline where a congregation of locals hang feeding these ocean giants. The whales are not at all fussed by the tourists in the water, to the contrary I had to move over on a number of occasions so as to not get in their way. They followed their Filipino partners around like puppies with their masters, happy and obedient. The Whale Sharks moved around freely in a mess of canoes and people. I actually was so glad for their so called ‘domestication’ at that point- the fact that they weren’t scared of people or boats meant I didn’t feel like I was alarming the whale sharks at all. They were chilled and content and I was mesmerized by their serene nature and sheer size.
At one point while snapping away senselessly on the camera trying not to collide with my new local mates I turned to see 4 of these massive fish all around me with in a 5 meter radius. I put the camera down and took it all in, this was their home and I was grateful we’d been allowed to dive in.
I must say the practice of feeding these wild creatures rubs many environmentalists up the wrong way. I do understand where they are coming from but I am not completely against it. After all many places feed local birds to encourage visits, offer fish to dolphins on daily occasions and alike. I think it is a far better practice then in other Asian countries where whales are harpooned and slaughtered but that’s just my opinion an you’re all entitled to you’re own.
If you’re in Cebu or the southern Visayas I highly recommend a trip to Oslob to take a dip with the whale sharks. There are tours but from tripadvisor recommendations we hired a local taxi and driver Danny Noy. He was brilliant. Friendly knowledgeable and only 3000 pesos for the day which included about 7 hours driving all up (that’s around $75AUD). We also stopped at the leather shoe Mecca of CarCar on the way back to Cebu, in my book not really worth the stop, they shoes were not really western taste but I did get a couple of great pics and we bought our driver Danny a pair of shoes so all wasn’t lost.
I’d love to hear any other amazing animal encounters around the world. I know Nigaloo Reef in Western Australia is a top spot for Whale Sharks. And I’ve heard Tonga is another great visit if swimming with whales is your thing. Anywhere else I should have on the bucket list??