I shall start this post by saying that I have a particular bias for whale sharks. I grew up in Donsol which promotes whale shark tours in order to save the whale sharks (although this has become problematic as well, but I shall talk about this on a different post). My undergraduate thesis was about the whale sharks of Donsol and the economics and politics that go with its protection. You can really tell I am naturally interested in these mammals.
When I heard of the news about whale sharks being fed and pet in Oslob in southern Cebu, my initial reaction was that of a resistance to the activity, of course, something that I personally share with some environmental groups that advocate the safety of the whale sharks whose population has become vulnerable through the years. A friend of mine, a whale shark researcher who had been to Oslob in December last year, told me of his disappointment over the activity. I wanted to see it for myself since I was also working on Donsol’s overcrowding issue on its whale shark tours.
We arrived in Oslob a little over 7pm. Since we weren’t sure of the accommodations in Tan-awan, the village where the whale sharks (locally known as tuki) are being fed, we decided to spend the night in town. We were not scheduled to visit Oslob yet, but upon learning that the town was just an hour’s away from our last stop in Simala, we decided to proceed anyway even with no extra clothes and enough cash to cover for our expenses. We found a home in a very spartan lodging house named Gunner’s Lodge (PhP350 per night, room can accommodate four people), one of only two tourist inns in town. Since Oslob does not have a single ATM around, we asked Ate Wena, the caretaker, if we can just pay the next day as we’ll have to wait for our friend in Manila to send us some extra cash.
We got up early the next day in time for the whale shark tours that start at 6am. Tan-awan was still ten minutes away by jeepney. On our way to the village, we met Sebastian and Cindy, German travelers who have heard of the whale sharks in Oslob. When we got to one of the two resorts that “host” the tour, we saw around 20 paddle boats already out in the water, “interacting” with the whale sharks.
One of the things that I really love about Oslob is that its people are too nice and friendly they actually offered to lend us swimming shorts (we weren’t really prepared!) upon learning of our little adventure. They also offered us free lunch before we headed back to town. 🙂
We were then ushered to another part of the village for the tourist briefing. It turned out the resorts were just docking points (we paid PhP50 each as entrance and for the use of the resort’s shower, while the other resort asks for PhP100, we’ve been told) and guests can actually proceed to the briefing area where boatmen are also stationed. Before the municipality of Oslob took over the management of the tours, guests pay PhP200 directly to the boatmen as paddle boat rentals.
We headed back to the resort where our boatman, Mang Santiago, was waiting for us. We learned from him that the two resorts have their own sets of boatmen and whale shark feeders (fishermen who are allowed to feed the whale sharks) and have actually “divided” the sea into two to clear competition among them. The tours were held not too far from the shore and we can actually see the “chaos” as we made our way to the water. Fishermen feeding the whale sharks and tourists having their field day greeted us.
Fishermen feed the whale sharks with uyap, or sergestid shrimps, which are abundant in Oslob waters at this time of the year. Unlike in Donsol where boatmen and tourists search for them, some ten whale sharks in Oslob are actually gathered in one area where they are being pet by the fishermen. Whale sharks appear at the sight of the feeders while some of them actually tug the boats as if begging for food.
Whale shark advocates have expressed concern over the activity as all of them have warned that feeding the whale sharks could cause them more harm than good. Looking at the feeding activity, and how tourists and the boats appear too close to the whale sharks, I could tell where these advocates are coming from.
What alarmed me was how the whale shark feeders would “run” after the whale sharks when they swim away from the crowd. The fishermen would then dangle their bait and lead the whale sharks back to where the crowd is.
Whale sharks have obviously been used to the attention and the petting that tourists can swim very close to them or have their pictures taken with them. Some tourists are unmindful of the fact that these are wildlife animals that are not used to human’s touch and screaming. At some point, I felt offended by this group of tourists who were screaming at the top of their lungs like they were enjoying some rollercoaster ride.
We left Oslob with a growing concern over the welfare of their whale sharks. I really hope Oslob finds a better way to sustain their budding tourism as I can tell that the whale sharks are seen as a way to improve the livelihood of its people. When we talked to the fishermen, we learned that the money that they earn from the tours are bigger than what they earn from fishing. There’s a positive energy around Oslob and its people are undeniably friendly, I wish they soon reap the rewards of really taking care of their whale sharks.
There is so much beauty in our country, we just need to get outside the comforts of the city life. Explore Cebu’s countryside and indulge in its many colors. I kid you not, it’s juanderkid! I hope to see you in one of my travels soon! 🙂
Love and light, everyone. Go, wanderlust! 😀
- Oslob is a three to four-hour bus ride from Cebu City. Head to the South Bus Terminal and ride one of the buses that go to Oslob or Santander. Fare is from PhP150 to PhP160. Buses leave every 30 minutes, starting at 1am.
- All photos taken with a Canon 550d and a malfunctioning kit lens 😀