The one thing that I knew I’d be doing in the Philippines was snorkelling with whale sharks. “Sharks?!”, I hear you say. Fear not, my friends, these giant creatures are plankton eaters. They don’t even have teeth. They are gentle giants. Granted, I did have wild notions of getting sucked into their mouths when they were filtering for plankton. However, I quickly realised I was being ridiculous.
Is it ethical?
Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist let me first point out that this is not a dodgy tourist attraction that exploits these beautiful creatures. It is not a cowboy operation. The sharks are free to come and go as they please. There are no nets, nothing keeping them there. They are fed until 12pm and after that there is no more feeding and the whale sharks swim off to do whatever they do.
I was aware that people were dubious about it. In fact, I myself did not know what to expect until I arrived. I asked around a bit and the general consensus was that it was much better than it had been years ago. I decided to go and see for myself.
We left from Lapu Lapu at 4.30am. I know, but some things are worth getting out of bed for. The drive to Oslob took 3hrs. We hired a mini van for the day. It cost 5000 pesos ( around £70), so £35 per person since there was only the two of us. Obviously this would work out better if you had more people in your group to bring down the price per person. Either way, he took us everywhere and anywhere we wanted to go and provided a safe place for us to store our belongings. You can go by bus but it is a VERY local bus. If you are a seasoned traveller this might suit you just fine. It’s obviously much cheaper. However, you are crammed on a bus ,with no air con, that stops every 5minutes.
How much does it cost?
When we arrived at Oslob we had to pay a fee based on whether we were snorkelling or scuba diving. Our fee was 1050 pesos ( about £15) per person. DO NOT SCUBA DIVE. The water is shallow and the whale sharks stay near to the surface. It is a waste of time and money to scuba dive this. Snorkelling or free diving provides the better view/photo op/ experience in general.
How does it work?
Once we had paid and gotten all our kit together we were taken for a briefing. We were informed that we were not allowed to wear sunscreen as it was potentially damaging to the whale sharks. We were offered the option to wash any off that we had previously applied. We had 30minutes in the water. Once that time was up our guide would call us to get back into the boat.
It was also stressed that we could not, under any circumstances, touch the whale sharks. If we did, there was a large fine and possible prison time. There would be underwater marshals watching and enforcing this rule. At this point I considered straight jacketing myself so that it was impossible for me to even accidentally touch them. Prison in the Philippines? No thank you! I’ve seen Banged Up Abroad.
Once our guide was satisfied that we understood the rules we were led to our boat. As we’d been some of the first people to arrive we had a boat entirely to ourselves which was amazing. We went a few metres from the shore and then suddenly, there they were. Great black spotted fins breaching the surface. I could not wait to get into the water. We flung our legs over the side, popped our fins on, adjusted our snorkels and away we went.
The water was no more than 10m deep, if even. The visibility was perfect. I could see at least 3 whale sharks. They were magnificent. I love how they have such HUGE mouths and such tiny eyes. In total there were about 5 or 6 swimming around. They were not fully grown adults, they were definitely young whale sharks. Not yet quite as monstrous in size as they can be.
My free diving training really came in handy here. I could dive under the water and swim around these creatures for minutes at a time. I could see them from all angles, always being careful to avoid the moving tails, of course. The only problem I had was that I didn’t bring a weight belt, so I had a bit of buoyancy issue. Essentially, because the water was quite shallow, even when I got down to the bottom, I was still floating back up to the top.
Honestly though, even if you just snorkelled on the top the whole time, the view would still be amazing. I was having a rest, bobbing along on the surface and I saw a whale shark, mouth wide open, slowly swimming towards me. I was like, “it’s grand, he can see me, he’ll swim around”. But as he got to within a few metres I was thinking, “why is he still coming towards me? Where is my camera?! Gosh, I need to move, I can’t touch him.”.
As I frantically kicked myself out of the way I could hear manic laughter. What’s everyone laughing at? Turns out the man in the boat was throwing shrimp directly at my head so that the whale shark would keep advancing on me. He and the Gent found this hilarious. I saw the funny side once I was out of touching distance.
After our 30minutes were up we scrambled back onto the boat and were led back to shore. We left with some amazing photos and another amazing experience ticked off the bucket list. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
There is also the option to visit the nearby local waterfalls. We figured we might as well since we’d hired the van for the day. The entrance fee was 20 pesos each (30p) so we weren’t stretching the budget too much.
There was the option to catch a motorbike down to the falls from the parking area. However, he who shall remain nameless is not a fan of motorbikes at all, so we walked. In fairness, on the walk down I decided that a motorbike ride down may have been quite risky indeed. It was quite a steep descent.
Once we arrived we were greeted by friendly locals who were obviously in charge of supervising the tourists at the waterfalls. There weren’t too many people there. Perhaps 15, excluding ourselves, and it was quite a big place so there was plenty of room.
I’ve always wanted a picture of myself under a waterfall, Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl style, of course. Minus the insane abs. Within seconds I’d stripped down to my bikini and was climbing over rocks to position myself in full exotic beach babe mode. It didn’t quite go to plan. Mainly due to the fact that I’m not some tanned toned swimsuit model, but also partly due to the fact that it was insanely cold which affected my facial expressions in an interesting way.
There was a giant pool of beautiful turquoise blue water in front of the waterfalls themselves in which you could swim and take amazing photos. I mean, what else can I say? It was just a simply stunning waterfall. A wonderful photo-op and really well looked after by the local people.
After about 20 minutes we hiked back up to the van and hit the road again. Back to our lovely home away from home in Lapu Lapu.
What did I think?
All in all the day was one of the most wonderful days I’ve had in the Philippines. I highly recommend swimming with the whale sharks. It is an unforgettable experience, a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s even worth paying £70 for a mini van. Hahha.