Whale shark swimming, one of my long-time dreams, came true this year – June 2016. This is one of my amazing experiences during my visit to the Island of Cebu, Philippines.
The close encounter with whale sharks in Oslob is very memorable to me in the sense that it was the first time I was up close and personal with a huge animal on earth (I think the other bigger animal I personally encountered are the elements – in the zoo!). It was so amazing and incredible situation that I couldn’t even pinpoint my feeling or how to describe it!
Alright, before I get so emotional and excited, let me relate to you my experiences and how I got there so that if you were interested to meet them you will get some ideas and probably would wish to visit the place someday soon.
I thought that I can watch the whalesharks in Oslob any time of the day – but it isn’t the case. It got this information clearly the day before I went, although I am supposed to know this relevant information since I have a page for whaleshark watching in this very travel guide website. One of the personnel at Club Fort Med resort kindly described to me all information I need!
So, I got up at around 5AM and I could hear the sound of the sea waves splashing by the rocks and walls of the resort. it was a nice feeling knowing that I was still on vacation and was free to move around and do things I want to happen (most of them anyway!).
In the Philippines, 5 in the morning is already bright and you can start to see the rays of the sun trying to burst out and give out its ever-amazing colors - from the Southern side in this part of the world. I usually take photos of the breaking dawn whenever I can get up early.
As the staff of the resort suggested that I should go and watch or do whale sharks swimming early – as early as 6 or 7 in the morning – I hurried up to catch a bust heading towards that direction. Before that, I gobbled the last piece of cold pizza left from my yesterday’s supper. Then I made sure that my phone’s battery was loaded and so was my camera, which I know I cannot use there, my swimming trunk, bottled water, towel and loaded them into my backpack. Just a few meters up my resort is the main road where all public and private transports traverse that part of the province.
After a few minutes of waiting by the roadside, I caught a non-air-conditioned bus heading towards my destination. By the way, air-conditioned buses, motorbikes, tricycles (motorbikes with side cars) and jeepneys can also take you there, if you may ask.
Where exactly do you get off? This is a very important information and the first one you must remember. Good thing is that the drivers or conductors never failed to ask your direction! So, just tell them that you want to see the whale sharks in Oslob and that you need to get off at the whale sharks briefing area. If you took the big bus, just like I did, it will stop at their designated bus stop which is just a few meters ahead where you are supposed to get off.
Just walk back for about 30 meters and you will find shops and ads beside a road that leads to the briefing area, which is just about 20 meters down from the road and where you can visibly observe the sea. I was already very excited to watch the whale sharks that I couldn’t exactly remember how it looked like when I descended down towards the area.
The briefing area is a hall with no walls at all which is just a few feet away from the sea. It was just around 6 AM and the crowds were already getting ready to embark on their first encounter with the gentle giants. The situation looks a bit overwhelming at first to me since I didn’t have any clue where to go to.
You could feel the people’s excitement and their feeling of intimidation, not because of the other visitors but due to the impending encounter with the ‘sharks’. Probably, this is my own feeling alone since these giant fishes are huge and we always associated something big to be something dangerous. I sometime imagine what if one of them would just swallow me up and leave without any trace. However, I know for a fact, and as related by scientist and people, that whale sharks never eat anything bigger than plankton and krills (small shrimps)!
Anyway, I asked people sitting infront of the tables who were busy entertaining innocent visitors trying to get their things done. I was told the following as my summary of the process:
This is close to the door and where you can see a staff(s) guiding visitors to sign up. Basically, you need to write down your full name, age, country of origin, among the basic information necessary to segregate not only who has to pay such and such amount but also to have an evidence in case there is an accident.
Foreigners have to pay more than locals do by the way. Explanation follows…
I found two staff receiving payments from visitors. Of course, they provide you the necessary receipts – and they need your identity cards to prove that you are either a local or not. In this writing, locals should pay 500 Pesos/head (includes snorkel gears). Foreign nationals should pay 1000 Pesos/head. If you want to rent an underwater camera it costs 500 pesos each – a good move if you want to have a memory not only in mind and heart but also as a photo – digital memory!
Yes, I rented one and this was my best decision ever. I would have regretted it if I didn’t. that’s because I need photos for my website aside from keeping a concrete memory of the experience which I thought I need to share with friends or family.
if you don't know yet, there are rules of encounter when swimming with whale sharks. These rules must be kept or else you will be in danger or punish if not kept.
You must attend or listen to a brief talk before embarking into your boat to encounter the giant fishes. Basically, or in summary…
Violation to any of the rules would cost you a lot – 2,500 Pesos! Again, most of these rules that you must keep can keep you safe while in the water.
After paying and getting your receipt, you need to show your receipt to the staff sitting infront of a small table who will then give you a number for your turn. Usually, if you come in groups you will be treated as a group (usually 6-8?) to get into one boat. The staff will inform a boatman who will be responsible in ushering to his boat – a motor-less boat which uses only a paddle.
Since I went alone for this journey, the staff informed the boatman to include to his group – a group of foreigners – a mum and her son and two daughters. She opened the conversation by telling me that she was with her children doing lots of adventure on the island!
I then asked for my snorkel gears but had a mixed feeling since I have never used this simple gear for many, many years. I know that I have to breathe in and out through my mouth but can I do it again without having had a small practice!
As I registered and paid for most of the things I needed, I asked where to find the underwater camera which I paid for already. At first, I thought I will take the photos by myself but was told that the boatman will take care of it, which is I think a wonderful idea!
So, I headed back to my boatman and he led us to the small boat feeling excited and other uncountable number of feelings and thoughts going in my mind as I embark to this new experience.
From the shore, I could see other boats already ahead of us and noticed that very calm sea water all around us. Other people in their boats looked very excited but I know that they have to keep silent and not get too excited to avoid giving any stressful situation to the whale sharks swimming underneath our boats.
I found the facilities of the place quite alright. But certainly the organizers of the place can make it more accommodating and better organized in terms of letting the visitors know the process in preparation to the exciting experience.
I said that since I had a bit of difficulty finding the first step of the process. Anyway, here’s what the briefing area and the whole area you are in
The Hall - Briefing Area
This is where you need to arrange your grand experience of the day. This is the hall you can immediately find as you descend down the small road and located just a few stones throw away from the sea. If you don’t know where to start (since there are no signage), just ask any of those people looking busy sitting infront of one of those tables. Then they will guide you where to start or proceed with your process. I started, of course, with the registration.
Yes, after registering your needed information, you will be advised to proceed to this booth which is across the registration table. You might need to present your identification card to clarify whether you need to pay as a local or as a foreign visitor.
You may use the shower rooms (and bathrooms) for free. I used this right after my swim with the whalesharks to get rid of the salt water. The showers are just functional enough to wash away the saltwater from your body. I had to use the bucket to wash myself as the showers are not working. Probably, the operators and management can improve this facility, if you please!
If you want to leave your valuables safely, you need to find the store where it offers the service. I found this out when I asked the staff at the hall. She asked if I want to leave my backpack under her table which I bluntly refused since I know that many people come in and out and she doesn’t have the attention all the time to watch my backpack – which contains my cellphone, camera and other personal belongings!
She kindly informed me that there is one shop which offers lockers. And so I rushed out and found the shop which such lockers. I paid for a reasonable amount to keep my backpack safe (150 pesos). I trust that my belongings will be safe even though the owner/staff of the shop kept my locker key. I told myself that I just have to trust my gut sometimes and trust that some situations will be alright. Yup, I was right, everything went well!
It is not unusual to find shops and other sorts of small businesses inside or attached to places such as this. You can find shops that sell summer clothes, souvenirs, swimming gears, eateries, food stops and such small establishments which are mostly organized and established by local organizers.
Overall, it was an amazing and successful experience of the day – early in the morning. As you can see in the photo, I was swimming with whale sharks around 6:30 AM.
It is the best time of the year and great time to watch the whale sharks since the sea water is very calm. Besides, the water is not cold but warm enough to keep you in the water for long to swim and observe these amazing creatures.
The experience was very interesting and satisfying. It was my expectation based on the experiences and stories from those who have been there. However, my personal experience is definitely my own and I couldn’t compare it with what others have described. It was a feeling of being close to nature and to a creature which I have never expected to encounter some years back. It was a great chance and opportunity which I want to experience again – but also a probability which I don’t have the chance to do in the future!
To make this story shorter, I went to the shower room to wash out the saltwater from myself. Then proceeded to collect my backpack and changed my clothes inside a small dressing room at this shop with the lockers.
Then proceeded to the place which processes the photos taken from the underwater camera I rented. This is another shop across the locker shop. As I went in, I saw the young lady in-front of a desktop and I saw the digital photos she was scanning and there I saw myself – funnily trying to get photos with the whale sharks right behind me. I commend the boatman who professionally took photos for me. I didn’t that he took that many took every time I dive in.
The lady then showed me the screen and told me that she is saving then into a disk. She asked if I have a USB to which I first answered that I didn’t have one with me. However, suddenly I realized that I have my USB flash drive right inside my wallet (a thin USB which you can carry around – a great technology besides the cloud! ^^).
Having completed and feeling great with all these morning experiences, I was getting ready to proceed to another town for another adventure – Santander Town’s beach resort and Samboan Town’s Aguinid Falls.
Thanks for reading through if you reach this part. Let me know if you have questions regarding anything related to this place or whale shark swimming in particular.