Saturday, March 28, 2015

Oslob Whale Shark Watching

I distinctly remember being a young boy and reading a book about the animals of the earth. In one section there was a picture of a whale shark. I remember thinking of how massive that might be, in comparison both to whales and other sharks, but mostly to anything I knew at the time. Put next to a picture of a bus, 40 feet long, this gentle giant is a filter feeder. There was no danger of the whale shark attacking me, very little of it accidentally running into me. There was, however, a few times when they became very close to us and we tried to avoid it, but did touch them a few times. I have my wife to thank for this encounter. It didn't even cross my mind to check, but she found this and made sure we went.
Of course, I was thrilled with the idea. Since that young age I had been thinking about the whale sharks, even more after visiting Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa almost 8 years ago, then again this past year. We took a private car from Mactan island to Oslob in Cebu. It was a 3-4 hour drive each way and about 1 hour at the site. We opted to leave early at 5am, but there was an option for 4am departure. We thought it best to get there early and try to beat whatever crowd there may be. It was a good choice as we could see upon leaving around 1030am that there were more people gathered waiting to go out.
Arriving in Oslob we came to a small center along the beach which had a couple of bathrooms and changing stalls, a 20 meter beach front flanked by a couple of small cafes, and a concrete sheltered platform where a briefing was given. We had a bit of mango and sticky rice with a cocoa drink, then put our extra belonging in the car. We got on a small rowing boat with 3 guides and one other tourist, very personal which I enjoyed. There were about 4-5 crafts like out during the given time, about 25 people in all who were there to see the whale sharks. The boats rowed out to an area about 50 meters off shore where the water was approximately 10-15 meters deep. Once we strapped on our masks and made sure we were ready to get in, we jumped. A few of the boats had shrimp/plankton to attract the whale sharks and this is how so many were concentrated in a relatively small area. There were 3-4 whale sharks there, the largest maybe 30 feet long and the smallest maybe 15. For 30 minutes we bobbed in the sea taking what time we could to dive down and get close to the whale sharks.
It was surreal to be close to such a large and ancient living thing. Of course in zoos and aquariums we had seen such creatures, but the closest we had gotten to something in the wild must have been when we were across the river from a rhino in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Of course, I wasn't quite as worried about this animal suddenly charging us. More so I was worried that we would disturb them!

After our 30 minutes in the ocean we jumped back into the boat and headed for shore. We then dried off a bit and headed for Tumalog Falls. What a nice refreshing dip that was. The falls were so beautiful and after the sea the fresh water felt great on my skin. We then had a bit of lunch by a seaside restaurant and headed back in the car.

For those thinking about this as an option for something to do in Cebu, I can't give it enough recommendation. Its one of the most interesting things I have ever experienced. The price of the tour, with driver both ways, lunch, and guide were well worth it. Also, instead of using our own water proof camera we opted to pay the extra 8 dollars or so to have the company rent us a camera. This meant that one of the guides took pictures of us then helped us to transfer to our USB card. Totally worth it as we were too busy catching our breath or enjoying the experience to get shots and 30 minutes goes by fast when you are so enthralled.