OSLOB: SWIMMING WITH THE (WHALE) SHARKS
“Manong, may pating ba dito (are there sharks here)?” Maki nervously asked our boat paddler-guide as we were heading further away from shore. There should be. We have traveled through three provinces just to see the Tuki (Whale Sharks) in the waters of Oslob. Maki has been recounting the horrifying scenes and episodes from the TV show “Animals Gone Wild” ever since we planned this trip.
Whale shark watching in Oslob starts at 6:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. We arrived at the port of Liloloan around 6:00 a.m. and decided to head to our home stay host in Daang Banwa so we can leave our stuff. We got an air conditioned room, which can accommodate six (6) persons with had it’s own bath and shower for Php 800.-. The beds looked so tempting after traveling for more than six hours. It was hard to resist falling asleep… but we have been looking forward to this adventure.
Gwen, our host, arranged for a multicab to take us to beach managed by the local government in Tanawan, Oslob. She also owned a small souvenir shop and arrange whale shark watching tours. When we got to the beach, we registered and paid the fees inclusive of the boat rental, guide, and snorkeling gears… Php 500.-, if you wish to go snorkeling and Php 300.-, if you’re staying on the boat, which I did. For foreigners, the amount is doubled.
Everyone was required to undergo orientation at the briefing center on the rules for interaction with the sharks. The orientation was very brief that I barely remembered anything what the lady said… Probably that’s the reason why they have illustrated version of guidelines in case you didn’t want to listen or tend to forget easily.
Let’s see if I got the DO’s and DON’Ts right.
- maintain a minimum distance of three (3) meters from the whale sharks
My friends who went into the water had no intention whatsoever of invading the whale shark’s personal space or swimming within the allowable distance… but there seems to be a problem since the sharks like to swim within close proximity of the humans. They were caught by surprise when a shark brushed their feet while they were floating in the water.
- do not undertake flash photography
Since I opted to stay on the boat, I took photos of my friends who swam with the sharks… and many times tried to swim away from the sharks who were heading towards them. I left Igor (my camera) at a locker we rented for Php 20.-… and used a Doc Argie’s point and shoot instead. Atty Maki also brought an underwater camera with her. There wasn’t much need for flash since it was a clear day and even underwater, you can get a clear shot of the sharks.
According to Atty Maki, she just pointed and clicked her camera… and hoped that she got a picture of the sharks. It wasn’t that difficult to capture them in the frame since they were quite enormous… some even bigger than the boat we were on.
- do not attempt, touch or ride the whale sharks
Several smaller boats with lone paddlers called out “Seven”, “Francis”, which we later on realized were the names they gave to the sharks. In no time, sharks would swim towards these boats… the paddler would feed them with small shrimps. It was incredible to see that these giant creatures seemed to have formed a bond with the fishermen and how they seem to follow the boats around like pets. Though I wonder if the fishermen were also told not to touch the sharks since I have seen a few who would pet the shark that swam along side their boats.
- do not use sunblock (I read this in the internet)
The use of sunblock lotion is discouraged since the chemicals will be harmful to the whale sharks and the other fishes in the area. If you don’t want to get burned by the sun, it would be good to come early when the heat isn’t as intense… otherwise, you can always bring an umbrella.
We saw at least four (4) whale sharks at the same time… though there could be fifteen (15) or more of them in the waters of Tanawan. Interestingly, they have grown to be the fishermen’s ‘pets’. You didn’t have to look or wait long to see them. The sharks seem to be too accustomed to the presence of humans (especially the fishermen) that they just appear right away. After thirty (30) minutes, we headed back to shore.
It was a surreal experience, though I stayed in the boat (because I can’t swim) and had to watch these gentle giants only as they surfaced from the water… it didn’t take away their magnificence and impressive size. The whale sharks (or Tuki as the locals called them) in Oslob have been drawing a lot of attention and hordes of travelers and tourists. Much needs to be done in terms of protecting these gentle giants. I’m not an environmentalist or an expert on the matter, so I don’t really know what is the best course of action at this point… but as visitors and travelers, we can do our share in following the rules even if no one is watching.