by KU MOHD SYAZWAN
Whale shark watching is a new tourism product and making waves among backpackers. One favourite place to enjoy this activity is at Oslob Bay, Philippines. I recently made a trip there with the sole mission to swim with one of the world’s friendliest giants, the whale shark. It was indeed an unforgettable experience.
JOURNEY TO OSLOB BAY
Being a backpacker for almost two years, I have paved my way across many streets of South East Asia, and without exception, the Philippines. As usual, I chose a budget hotel which suited my budget and close to Oslob Bay.
Travelling alone is a swell way to connect with similar-minded adventurers. At a budget hotel in Cebu, I met an Armenian backpacker who decided to journey with me to Oslob Bay the following day.
By sunrise, we were already on our way. The bus journey was very scenic and the magnificent view of charming villages and beautiful blue sea filled our conversation. Shortly, we arrived after a two-hour ride.
Oslob Bay is a newly discovered site to dive with whale sharks. It is one of the most beautiful beaches that I have been to. Fishermen here have befriended the whale sharks and often take tourists out in their dugout canoes while the giants tailed behind.
Animal rights activists have been protesting against feeding the whale sharks. To understand what was going on, I spent some time chatting with the fishermen. I began to understand the unique relationship between the fishermen and the friendly giants.
During the night, the fishermen would go shrimp-hunting. Whale sharks feed on these shrimps, known as blimp shrimps.
Whale sharks, on the average, eat kilos of these shrimps every day. The shrimps are used to coerce these whales to the surface much to the delight of tourists. This way, the fishermen can determine the time and duration to watch and swim with the whale sharks. The tour operators also carefully ensure that the feeding is carried out without causing any harm to the whale sharks. They keep the shrimps refrigerated in plastic bags.
SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS
Soon it was my turn to swim with the gigantic sea creature. Luckily for me, when I arrived, it was late morning and most of the tourists had left after the early morning sessions. So, in the company of Mariam, we set out on the canoe paddled by one of the locals to the feeding spot.
The feeding sessions to attract the sharks are all carried out in one spot. This ensures that tourists get to swim along the whale sharks and they get what they pay for without going home disappointed.
The fee for a session of encounter with the giants cost about 1,500 pesos or roughly RM130. Trips are made during several sessions from 6am to 1pm every day.
There are strict guidelines to observe when swimming with the whale sharks and these are imposed to ensure minimal human intervention and that the whale sharks are not harmed unnecessarily in any way.
If you cannot swim, you can still float by wearing a safety jacket. The encounter for me was a one-of-a-kind experience. I had to restrain myself from touching them but how I wished I had done so as they were swimming real close to me!
Just a note, it is advisable not to visit during full moons as blimp shrimps will be scarce, which also means less food for the whale sharks.
Apart from that, I noticed that the villagers are really helpful in keeping the bay clean. There was no litter around the area I visited. Compared to some of the beaches in other countries, Oslob Bay must be one of the cleanest beaches and definitely a must-visit.
After spending a weekend there, I had to say goodbye to the lovely place. But you know what? I will definitely come back again.