There aren’t many things I’d gladly wake up at 3 am for, and, going to the beach isn’t one of them (blame it on the typical Cebuana who lives 30 minutes from the sandy shores). This however, was no ordinary beach trip. It didn’t involve basking under the sun, trying to get the perfect tan or lazing around under the shade with an ice cold drink in hand. This was a chance to swim with a creature of the sea as big as 10 feet – about the size of a car!
The whale shark, butanding in Tagalog or tuki in Bisaya, is the largest of the fish species. They can grow as large as 41.5 feet. The ones in Oslob are younger and smaller. They live in warmer tropical areas, which explain their presence in different parts of the Philippines.
How to get there
There are several ways to get to Oslob. Ceres Bus Liner passes through the town on its way to Dumaguete. Other alternatives are to rent a van or to bring your own car. Oslob is around a 3 hour drive south of the city.
By the time we arrived at 6:30 am, there were already several others waiting for their turn to see these amazing creatures. The fishermen say that there are about 9 whale sharks that frequent the area. When we were there, 3 showed up for the visit.
Once on the beach, you have the option to ride a banca or if you’re feeling fit, swim. The whale sharks aren’t very far from the shore and don’t worry, they won’t eat you. Whale sharks are filter feeders so they sieve small animals or plankton from the water. In Oslob, they feed them uyap, a Cebuano term for tiny shrimp. As a result, the whale shark follows the fishermen around.
If you ride a banca, the boatman will bring you to where the whale sharks are. From there, you can jump into the sea and observe them as they swim around or feed. Swim beside them (but not too close!) and take a picture. You’ll want to remember this moment because this is the part where you forget that you had to struggle to wake up at 3 in the morning and drive for 3 hours in the dark. It is such an incredible and surreal experience that as soon as you snap back to reality and realize where you are, you’ll be glad that you made the trip because it was worth it.
Some quick facts and reminders to help you plan your trip to visit these awesome creatures:
* Best time to see the whale sharks is early in the morning. Be there by 5:30 am and you’ll probably beat the crowd. Wake up late and you might miss out on the experience. Swimming with the Whale Sharks is only possible in the morning. In the afternoon, the water becomes too rough to navigate and the fishermen call it a day.
* After the 125 km mark, you’ll see two signs at the left side of the road (if coming from the city), each with a picture of a whale shark. These are two resorts from where you can jump off to see the whale sharks.
* The rates of the resorts may vary a little, but expect to pay around 300 pesos per person (includes parking, entrance fee, rental of life jacket, fee to view the whale sharks either by swimming or taking a banca).
* You can scuba dive or snorkel (bring your own gear – goggles, aqua shoes, flippers).
* Wear a rash guard. There are jellyfish in the area.
* Don’t swim so close to the whale sharks. Like humans, they like having their own personal space. Imagine having around 5 to 10 people so close to you for one whole morning!
* Don’t touch the whale sharks!
Other things to see:
* If you’re a history buff or just like old churches, on your way back, stop by Boljoon Church. It is the oldest original stone church in Cebu. On the outside, it is built like a fort. On the inside, the interior is beautiful.
* If the whale shark experience left you famished, stop by Bodo’s Bamboo Bar for lunch on the way back. It’s in Alcoy, two towns before Oslob if you’re coming from the city.