Swimming with whale sharks
A few years back I came across a video of a guy swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines. This triggered a YouTube binge session of the Philippines and the more I watched, the more I fell in love with this beautiful country. After a few hours of getting lost in the magnificence that this country seemed to have on offer, I decided that this would be my next destination.
Then, when I finally visited the Philippines earlier this year, the whale shark diving experience was at the top of my list. I have dreamt of this experience for the longest time and finally was about to come face to face with a whale shark.
Oslob – Philippines
Flying into Cebu via Manila, my first destination was Oslob as I wanted my trip to kick off on a high with the whale shark experience. I always imagined this experience to be one where I submerge into clear blue waters, felt the calmness of the ocean, overwhelmed with emotion while swimming next to one of these magnificent animals. I imagined taking in the moment as I floated next to one of the biggest creatures in the world. Unfortunately, this was not the case at all. Remember that scene in the movie Titanic, just after the boat snapped in half leaving most of the passengers in the water frantically kicking and screaming to survive. Maybe a bit overly dramatic, but that is what my whale shark experience felt like. Hundreds of people, selfie-sticks and Gopros, trying to get the perfect shot in what I can only describe as a survival of the fittest scenario. I literally had people swim over me to get to the shark in time.
I quickly realised that I was so ignorant coming into this experience. I actually realised this sooner, on dry land already, when our group was called out for boat number 107 at around 09:00 in the morning. With an average of ten people per boat, it meant that more than 1000 people swam with the sharks within the first two hours of the day!
Looking back now, I was so infatuated by what I wanted the experience to be like, that I never truly educated myself on the reality of it.
It is vital that as a responsible traveler, we educate ourselves on matters where ethical practices are concerned. Definitely, a lesson learned for me.
In all honesty and fairness, I have to admit that I also rocked up at the whale sharks experience in Oslob with my selfie-stick and GoPro, ready to get my perfect shot without knowing any better. I also have to say that there was nothing wrong with how the experience was conducted in terms of being responsible in protecting the animals. It is clear that these animals are very important to the Filipino people and that they are focused on protecting them in every way. The entire day trip, the friendliness of the people and the emphasis they placed on the well being of the animals I cannot fault.
Will I ever consider doing this again? Definitely, however next time I will spend a bit more money and take a private tour, with a smaller group of people, that take you out to sea to look for these animals in their own environment and allow you to swim close to them without disturbing them in any way.