One of the most popular attractions when visiting Cebu, Philippines, is seeing the famous Whale Sharks and getting a chance to swim with these gentle giants in Oslob. This by far has been one of the most thrilling experiences of my life and I cant wait to return again!
History of the Whale Sharks in Oslob
The Philippines is very well-known for its abundance of marine wildlife including sea turtles, whale sharks, beautifully colored fish and corals. The Whale Sharks have an interesting history as they were hunted for shark meat until 1998 when the Philippines was one of the first countries to put in legislation to make whale shark hunting illegal. As the enforcement became stronger, the fisherman shifted from hunters to tour guides.
This all started in 2011 when some fishermen found the whale sharks to be pesky and annoying as they kept eating the bait the fishermen had out for other fish. So to bait the whale fish away they started leading the whale sharks away by feeding them small amounts of krill. But this practice drew in a lot of attention from the locals as they saw the giant whale sharks following these boats around then.
Thus the whale shark tourism industry was born. In 2012 it began to explode with tourists but this did not scare off the Whale Sharks. Since then, many studies have been done to ensure the safety of the whale sharks and the corals in the area.
How to get there
Getting to Oslob is easy from either Cebu or Dumaguete, however, you need to ensure you wake up very early so you get there by 6AM. The whale shark feeding starts by sunrise and if you don’t arrive until late morning it will already be too packed and often you will not be able to see them any longer.
From Cebu City:
- Terminal: Cebu South Bus Terminal. The terminal is beside Elizabeth Mall
- Details: There are buses leaving every 30 minutes to go to Oslob so don’t worry about not getting a ride. I suggest to get the 3:30AM Bus as it is a 3 hour ride to Oslob from Cebu.
- Fare: P155 (USD: $3.00)
- Terminal: Sibulan Port, Dumaguete.
- From Dumaguete airport, hire a tricycle to take you to Sibulan Port. Special trips will most likely cost somewhere between P60-P100 ($1-2 USD). Travel time is only 10 minutes to the port.
- From Sibulan Port you will purchase tickets to go to Liloan Liloan Port at the south of Cebu (literally just across the water from you).
- Once you step out of Liloan port there will be buses waiting to take passengers north to Cebu and Oslob. Inform the driver that you will be going to Oslob. It is about a 40 minute bus ride to Oslob for just P30.
- Fare: total is P192($4USD)
Encountering the giants
You can purchase tickets in advance to going to see the whale sharks online or you can purchase them there the day of. The only caution I will give you is that if you do not purchase ahead, get there very early as the area fills with people really fast and they only allow visitors in the morning.
You can use Klook to book in advance which includes private transportation already as well:
When you arrive in Oslob there will be many shops along the way selling for you to join their groups. You can utilize any of these, but I suggest to find one company’s service who has lockers with locks so that you can drop off all of your belongings with them. I’ve seen so many people try to bring their bags out into the water and end in disaster.
No matter what company you go through, at the end of the day all of you will be taken to the main building where you will undergo a briefing of the do’s and don’ts of swimming with whale sharks. The cost no matter what company you go through is P500 ($10USD). If you add additional things like flippers, GoPro, etc, it may be more expensive.
Once you are finished you will get your life jacket and snorkel/goggles and head out to your boat. The boatman will take you and 8 others out to queue in a lineup. Once it’s your boats turn the boat man will yell out “Ok, jump in!”… This is where the fun begins.
From there you have the choice of wearing your life-jacket or not and you have 30 minutes to swim in the water with the whale sharks. There will be small boats traveling around you with fisherman luring the whale sharks to you with krill/shrimp.
You can swim in the water with zero worry that the whale sharks will attack you. The whale shark’s teeth are said to be like the bristles of a tooth-brush. Whale sharks only eat small fish like krill/shrimp and are non-violent animals.
I highly suggest that you bring a GoPro with you for this so you can have underwater photos. They have these for rent prior to going out and they also sell the plastic bags you can put your phone in for underwater photos (although I never trust this!).
Once completed, there is a shower area that you can rinse off after and go back to your travel group and collect your things from your locker.
No touching. No lotion. No sunscreen.
So this is probably one of the most important parts about swimming with the whale sharks. Whale sharks do not normally come in contact with humans and most of the chemicals we put on our body are very harmful to them. Most of us all have some type of chemicals on us from lotions, hairspray, hair gel, deodorant, etc.
Please ensure you use the showers prior to entering the water so you leave these poisonous chemicals out of the mouths of the whale sharks. Although swimming with these gentle giants is allowed, do your part to ensure you aren’t harming them in the process.
Additionally, there is a 5 meter requirement for swimmers to stay away from the whale sharks to ensure we do not do any damage to their fins. Please try your best to strictly follow this to avoid any injuries to the sharks.
The Ethical questions…
There are certainly many ethical questions surrounding the baiting and swimming with whale sharks around the world, and Oslob is certainly included in this. For those of you who are interested to know the ethical issues about it, this includes the following:
- Swimming with the sharks causes damages to their fins as tourists want to get close and touch the sharks.
- The boats surrounding the whale sharks have propellers and often the whale sharks run into the propellers causing damage to their body and fins.
- Feeding the sharks daily all year round causes the whale sharks to no longer migrate to find food around the region.
I read many articles on this, but probably the most comprehensive is this article from LaMaVe by Samantha Cravan, a Marine Biologist from the UK. Many studies have been done in the area on the whale sharks and continually additional recommendations to the local government are made to make the tourist practice safer for the whale sharks and the environment.
The biggest suggestion I can make when visiting is please make sure to follow very strictly all requirements given by the briefing center to help ensure the safety of the whale sharks. As quoted from a sharks.org blog, “While whale sharks may be largely safe from hunting in Philippine waters, Filipinos may end up loving their whale sharks to death”.
Nearby Attractions – Tumalog Falls
When I first when to Oslob people told me I should go to Kawasan falls and although it’s nice there, it’s quite far from the Oslob whale watching spot. Instead, you should hit up Tumalog falls. It is 10x more beautiful and it’s only a 5 minute tricycle ride from the whale shark office for only P60. The entrance to the falls is only P20.
The Tumalog falls literally feel like you’re in the movie Avatar. They aren’t like normal falls which has one giant raging spill of water, instead it falls like rain from the sky all over. As you approach the falls there is a stream that leads you to the small lake under the falls. There are plenty of great photo spots for you to spend an hour or more here.
The water is quite cold, so if you do get in be ready! 🙂
Where to stay in Oslob
If you end up staying the night in Cebu, there are some really great resorts nearby. Staying in Oslob is a great halfway point to Dumaguete if you are headed there or to Siquijor. Additionally you can stay in Oslob to make it easier to travel around the southern tip of Cebu to see the other waterfalls and attractions.
I suggest staying in the following resorts in Oslob right nearby the whale watching spot for affordable rates between P1000-P2000 per night (Around $20-40 USD).
Hope you enjoy your time in Oslob at the falls and swimming with the gentle giants. If you have any questions before you go, feel free to comment and I’ll get back to you asap.
Keep exploring always! 🙂