Swimming with Whale Sharks

A graceful marine giant swifts by me as I crept into the waters of Oslob town in Cebu province.

There are more people now in the quiet town since the Whale Sharks or Rhincodon typus, first appeared near the shore last November 2011.

After an hour and half by car from Cebu City, tourists are met by giant tarpaulins of pictures of whale sharks which serve as markers for resorts that offer viewing of the graceful giants. Subsequently, you may start your journey to Oslob from Dumaguete on a medium sized boat offered by tour agencies.

Oslob was once a fishing village. During that day, most of the men leave their homes to fish, leaving the beaches into a quiet stretch.

Things are different now says one fisherman. Most of the men stay along the beach and usher tourists to see the whale sharks. They feed the whale sharks from 6 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during which people can be guided to view or swim with the giants.

The fishermen are organized by the local government as guides to whale shark watching. Some 100 fishermen are divided into 3 working groups assign to different resorts.

Each person will have to pay 300-500 pesos to be able to view the sharks. If one wants to snorkel, a tourist adds 200 pesos to be allowed to plunge into the water for a chance at meeting the sharks personally. The fees allows you access to the whale sharks for only 30 minutes.

There are also scuba diving shops where tourist can learn or borrow equipment.

TAKE THE PLUNGE

Once you’ve all geared up, you cannot take the plunge just yet. The municipal government requires all persons whale watching to attend a briefing by municipal employees. This ensures that visitors know the rules while being with these timid creatures.

Keeping away at least 5 meters from whale sharks is a must at all times, no splashing of water and no person wearing sun block be allowed to snorkel are some of the reminders the local official advise tourists. Once caught, you are immediately taken out of the area and will be fined according to violation. This ensures a safe, fun and healthy whale watching.

NEW OPPORTUNITY

Mang Dodong, who works at a whale watching resort, says they are fortunate enough that the whale sharks visits them. He is a fisherman before but now gets a better income out of the visiting whale sharks.

“The visits varies day by day, sometimes we spot 14 whale sharks but sometimes 1… in bad days, none comes,” Mang Dodong explains in vernacular Cebuano.

When the whale sharks come, fishermen feed them with krill that they buy by bulk in Cebu City. On the average, they feed at least 160 kilos of krill or shrimp fry a day or in the seven hours of tourist whale watching.

The money that they use to buy the feed is the previous day’s earning. It is part of the 60 percent share of all working guides, from the money they earn from visiting tourists. Accordingly, the remaining 40 percent of the day’s income will go to the municipal government and the barangay. All contribute to the effort making Oslob a tourist destination.

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