Adrenaline & Adventure · Philippine Gems · Thoughts · World Lust

Everything You Need To Know About The Controversial Whale Shark Circus In Oslob, Cebu

I never really paid attention to the issues that has become such sensitive topics, especially regarding animal rights, until I started traveling more. I rode an elephant, I posed with a captive animals, and I even swam with three different dolphins in the ocean (although, that one, I still stand by my decision that those dolphins are fully taken care of in a rescue center). The rest, I did with zero awareness that it was even an issue, or that they were even dubbed as unethical. (READ: I Rode An Elephant And I’m Not Proud Of It)

Not too long ago, I swam with whale sharks. Not once, but twice. On different occasions. The first time I did, I had no idea there was even a controversy regarding these gentle giants. For all I knew, we were going to be taken deeper into the ocean where we’ll be able to see these precious wild animals. Of course I was surprised when it turned out that although it definitely wasn’t the shallow part of the sea, we weren’t necessarily in the middle of the ocean like I imagined. I went again the second time because it was that amazing that I wanted my husband to experience it too. That, and because I wanted to learn more about the controversies and to stay conscious about any signs of unethical practices.

But before we probe deeper, let me just make it clear that I am in no way advocating nor preaching to you. I simply want to share with you my own experience and the knowledge that I now know. Besides, at the end of the day, you’re still making the final decision to go or not, and chances are, your curiosity and concern has led you to this article.

There are a few places across the globe that offers an experience to swim with the whale sharks. While it could cost around $200-$300 in places like Australia or Mexico, a 30-minute session with these sea creatures in Oslob, Cebu will cost foreigners $30. Of course with the cheap price comes with it the possibilities of questionable practices, exposure (and overload) to irresponsible tourists, and well, an experience that isn’t as authentic as you may be led to believe.

AUTHENTICITY

Girl, Unspotted whale sharks oslob

Starting off with the authenticity we all tend to seek, as much as I loved and treasure my experience, it really wasn’t a very authentic one. You’re surrounded by numbers of tourists who has flocked to this town for the very sake of swimming with the whale sharks. You’re taken on a short boat ride off the shore where the whale sharks return every morning to be fed by boat men, which is their way of summoning them. You’re basically inside a circle where the whale sharks are swimming around in the middle and tourists are struggling to get near enough to take a decent selfie for proof. Now I’m not going to claim that I wasn’t one of those trying to capture the memory, because no matter how inauthentic this whole circus actually was, it was just mesmerizing to be near these beautiful creatures. I was in awe, and swimming next to them was such an incredible experience.

ETHICAL OR NOT, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Girl, Unspotted whale sharks oslob

There’s been a few concerns raised regarding the Oslob whlase shark circus. There’s a specific article circulating online (that I can no longer seem to find) claiming some pretty important issues advocating why you shouldn’t swim with the whale sharks here. Some of the claims in the article appears inaccurate to me based on my own personal experiences and based on the conversations I’ve had with the locals. I made sure to keep an eye for any signs of maltreatment and abuse during my experiences, so here’s my take on some of the main concerns;

1.) Tourists are touching the animals.

Mostly, FALSE. The article included photos of people riding and touching the whale shark. This is obviously a big no NO. I myself would even condemn those dumb enough who thinks it’s okay to touch any wild animals. You wouldn’t want to be touched by anyone if it was the other way around, would you? Those photos, however, were actually taken from a nearby town, presumably of locals.

Anyway, before swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob, they bring you to a briefing center where they give you the pointers, do’s and don’ts, and the consequences, should you break the rules. They make you shower and rinse off your sunblock to protect them. You will be fined quite a good amount of pesos if you were caught touching the whale sharks, and I have witnessed how the boat men and the entire crew in the circus really try hard to prevent this from happening. They make sure you don’t get too close to them and if you are, they will drag you away. These are master mermans keeping an eye on everyone including the whale sharks, so that was quite a relief to see that they do look out for them. However, with increasing amount of tourists swimming with them on a daily basis, I would assume that there will still be instances that the rules would not be followed– may it be from stubborn or heartless tourists or accidental touches from being a horrible swimmer, it won’t be easy to monitor this at all times.

2.) The whale sharks are getting injured from motorized boats.

FALSE. They do not take any motorized boats to the main area. It is done so to prevent harming them. It doesn’t mean they can’t harm themselves when they accidentally bump against the boats though.

3.) They could get bacterial infection from being hand-fed.

UNSURE. As far as I’ve seen, they toss the food to the whale sharks, without necessarily touching them, as what was implied on the said article. The whale sharks I swam with also appeared healthy with no signs of injuries or any sort of infection. Of course, this is merely based on my observation with my naked eyes behind my goggles. Plus who’s to say how clean their hands are.

4.) Lack of nutrition.

Sadly, TRUE. Whale sharks travel far and deep in search of food, mostly for planktons, their personal preferences. In Oslob, they bait them with krill, not necessarily feed them, which apparently does not give them the appropriate nutrition they need.

5.) Feeding them every morning disrupts their natural migratory practices.

UNSURE. Whale sharks are very nomadic. They wander across the depths of the sea in slow speed as they migrate and search for food. By summoning them every morning in the same location, these creatures’ migration patterns may or may not be compromised when they become dependent on this alone for their nutritional resources. Most of the whale sharks I swam with were a lot smaller then I expected, and as a local I’ve spoken to has confirmed (who also used to work with marine biologists in the area), those ones were actually just babies, as their mothers have already left and migrated to Australia. According to experts, it’s a little early to detect if this claim is true, and while I’m hoping that it doesn’t lead to that, experts’ predictions seems to believe it just might.

TO STOP OR NOT TO STOP, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LOCALS?

I’ve spoken to locals and asked them whether they were aware of the controversies. They were of course, as it has been going on and that organizations has been trying to shut them down since the rise of the circus, according to one of them. But here’s what most people disregard; the whale sharks are predominantly the main source of income for majority of the locals in Oslob town. No matter how lovely the small town of Oslob is, the whale sharks IS the main attraction, so everything related to the tourism business will be highly affected should it ever come down to shutting down the entire attraction. Oslob has been thriving because of the tourists flocking here. It forced them to be creative and to find ways to thrive and make a livelihood out of it. So if these organizations come together to shut it down, what about the locals? Most of us are so quick to make judgements regarding matters that we feel so strongly about that we sometimes forget to look at it in a different perspective– the HUMANS trying to feed their family. It’s a matter of morality vs. survival, and when that’s the case, we all know that sadly, morality ends where survival begins.

TOUGH CALL

Girl, Unspotted whale sharks oslob

At the end of the day, I think it remains a catch-22. I do believe that the Oslob tourism board are doing their best to preserve the rights of the animals, and to also find ways to keep a sustainable lifestyle for its residents. I do believe that they are working hard to improve the whole ordeal. And while you can’t make everybody happy, the decision to experience something yourself is entirely up to you. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, or whether you just feel strongly and passionately about this issue, yet still want to experience swimming with gentle giants, there are other places in the Philippines where you can experience swimming with them in the wild. Donsol is one of the famous spots where whale sharks are commonly spotted.

Like I said earlier, I went twice on different occasions. Although I was unaware of the issues the first time I went, I knew a little better when I took my husband the next time around. But do I support unethical tourism? No. Am I okay with the said effects/claims regarding the whale shark circus? Absolutely not. What I support is experience. Kindness. Awareness. Seeing things with my own eyes. Hearing from both sides. Understanding different perspectives. Learning.

We all have different views on certain issues, and that’s okay. That’s what makes travel so special– differences. I don’t know where I completely stand yet in this matter, and it’s okay to allow yourself to be confused too. All I know is that whatever it is, we should all be kind– to animals and to other human beings.

After all, without my experience, I wouldn’t be able to share with you what I know now. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s personally experiencing these controversial things that opens our eyes and inspires us to make a change.

girl, unspotted

 

 

Did I miss out on any important information on this matter? Feel free to educate me more down on the comment section below. I’m no expert so I welcome anything to add to my knowledge!

Are you following me on Facebook yet? Please do so I can keep you updated with my latest travel tales and hacks. I aim to inspire and you can find all that goodies on my Instagram and Twitter too. See you there 🙂

38 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About The Controversial Whale Shark Circus In Oslob, Cebu

  1. My husband has always wanted to see the whale sharks in Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico, but so far we have been unsuccessful in finding them. He would love a tour like you experienced! I guess it’s hard to say if it’s harming the whales or not, but it seems they are treated well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really an insightful read about the whale sharks! Been wanting to go to Oslob (I was at Moalboal last year) but we never pushed through. I feel bad about the whale sharks being trapped in the area, but I really can’t blame the people who use this as their main source of income — they have families to feed and stopping their livelihood would definitely be a problem. I think the best way to compromise for this would be to have proper knowledge on handling whale sharks, maybe know more about their nutrition and help them out on reproducing? Or maybe have someone check up on the whales every now and then? It really is a tough call, hehe 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve swam with the whale sharks twice but it was in Donsol, Sorsogon. The first time we did it, there weren’t many tourists yet. When we came back some five years later, there were a lot of batches wanting a glimpse of the gentle giants. So far, the one in Donsol has not raised any issue. From my own understanding, the Inquirer ran a good story about it more than a decade ago. -Claire Algarme

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It would be a wonderful experience to be able to swim with these beautiful creatures. But there will always be controversies and issues. Especially with environmentalists who just want to protect the world we live in. That’s a given. I think it would be great to be able to help in keeping these whale sharks healthy. A few tweaks in the system would be great.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am glad you talked about this. It has been controversial for a long time now. I am planning to go back to Cebu this year and actually included this in my itinerary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a good article. Glad you took efforts to find out all about it, as well as talk to locals. Yes, I’ve been in quite a a few camel and elephant rides as a school kid, but as awareness grew, now I prefer not to!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it’s a bit of a gray area so I’ll just have to say that the crowd should be controlled when with the whale shark experience. If I remember right, the guides here used to be fishermen who would usually hunt whale shark. Giving them a meaningful source of income would make them help preserve the whale sharks.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow you can experience this in Cebu? Be right back, gonna book my flights to cebu right now lol.
    And thank you for such informative post, need more posts like these on travel magazines & sites instead of useless commercial posts that doesn’t give you any proper information. Keep up the good job!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I would never ever do something like this. I’m very concerned with animal wellbeing and this – to me – is just not OK. Even even they seem well taken care of – which is absolutely not sure – a wild animal is supposed to be in the wild and left alone. It isn’t supposed to be a tourist attraction. This is obviously only my opinion but I find it horrible places like this attract so many tourists…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve read that article, I think. And much as I wanted to go and bring my kids to see the whale sharks in Oslob, I hesitated because I didn’t want to contribute in hurting these animals. Thank you for the clarifications on some of the issues. It gives us a better perspective on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I spent time in Cebu but never made it there. As far as the controversy goes I think it is up to each person to decide whether they want to patronize certain activities. The places that have elephant rides have come under fire for unscrupulous tactics which some are guilty of while other treat the animals well. Since it is their livelihood they don’t want to do anything to ruin it so they treat the animals well. If you want to find causes you can find animal exhibits in the western world that don’t treat animals fair. You have to decide if the activity is being run ethically and with the animals well being in mind. You vote with your $.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was in Cebu but never made it down there. As far as the controversy goes I think each person needs to make a determination on whether to support activities such as these. The Elephant rides have come under scrutiny because of the way some operators treat the animals. However there are others that treat the animals well since they understand it is their livelihood and they want to preserve that. You can find causes everywhere. There are some animal exhibits tin the western world that treat their animals horribly. Each person needs to take a look and make a determination as to whether they wish to support the activity, however I think it is reckless on the part of some that write long articles on their blogs or other outlets saying “Do not support ____”. What these people fail to understand is that the people running these activities are trying to make a living and I believe most do it ethically although maybe not to your liking. But we should not impose our cultural or moral beliefs upon people of other cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I wasn’t aware of the whale sharks controversy. Honestly, I didn’t know you could swim with them on these tours. I’d hear of dolphin tours which I wouldn’t do in they were in captivity. Thanks for teaching me something new today and bringing awareness to the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m currently researching whale sharks in Mexico. I don’t think making it ethical means having to shut the whole operation down. They could enforce stricter regulations – limit the number of tourists per day, stop baiting the water and take the effort to find them in the open ocean. I think making it more expensive and less accessible to hoards of tourists would help. Where I am in Mexico it can be as cheap as $20 per person if you go with a fisherman who doesn’t have a permit to be out there. The boats here are motorized and unfortunately the sharks end up with a lot of injuries because people speed and the protection agency doesn’t enforce the rules. In Australia, while it is way more expensive, it is very strictly enforced and completely ethical. They use spotter planes to find the sharks in the open ocean and the boats take turns sharing the shark with a maximum number of people allowed. I think in Cebu they could do the same to enforce more regulations to protect the sharks while keeping the tourism income for the locals. But let’s not forget, the sharks were there first, we need to be respectful of their well-being and natural habitat.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reminds me of when we swam with manatees in Florida. We had no idea the issues surrounding the animals. We ended up adopting two AFTER we swam with them and learning about their circumstances. Definitely agree it’s a catch 22.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That’s the thing about tourism. Some activities may seem harmless but you’ll never know what other kinds of implications or detriments the animals would be subjected to. Only the environmentalists and those who study the creatures would be able to make a good guess. For me, as long as I am not harming them on purpose, I say go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. There’s a viral story going around on Facebook about a baby dolphin that died because of the tourists. 😦 This kinda reminds me of that story. I hope that won’t happen to the whale sharks in Oslob. Your last sentence struck a chord in me: “…it’s personally experiencing these controversial things that opens our eyes and inspires us to make a change.” Very well said, Erica!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. These are really important points. I had also ridden an elephant once and realized I should not have. I have swam with whale sharks in Donsol and have nothing but my memories to show for it (no underwater camera). I had wanted to go to Oslob to get a photo with them, but I will follow what this controversy leads to.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m glad that you shared your opinions and experiences so honestly here. I think there will always be controversies and issues, but as you said, it’s important to be willing to learn about these problems, but also to be open to hear each side of the story. Generally, I believe it’s also very, very important from the tourist-side that you respect the animals and the locals and don’t behave like an idiot (sorry, but there is no other way to say it). Be toughtful if you choose to be part of this experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Interesting, thank-you for putting this together in a post Erica. Swimming with Whale Sharks is one of the biggest things on my bucket list – I’m hoping to get to swim with them in Perth, Australia at some point this year, though I had no idea there was a controversy around this at all. Going to look into it much more now that you’ve planted the seed. Thanks for your honest write up of each of the potential issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Insightful post! I’ve heard of swimming with whale sharks, but never thought there were any controversies around it. The question around the livelihood of the locals is an interesting one, too – perhaps the organisations trying to shut the boat operators down could help them to make the experiences more ethical, rather than just trying to stop them completely and taking the town’s tourist trade away?

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great to know. Had no idea there could be controversial practices used in some of these attractions, but I can’t not say I’m surprised. Tourism can often be destructive, and it’s often left up to the tourist to practice conscious tourism.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I’m not sure where I stand on whether things like this should continue or not. It’s not really something I would choose to do myself, so I hadn’t really thought about it until now. As another person mentioned, let’s hope that nothing terrible happens such as the incident with the dolphin in Argentina a few days ago

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I have been to Oslob four or five years ago – way before it became a tourist hot spot. I’ve always encouraged responsible tourism. Hopefully, environmentalists or people in governance can help educate the local community so they would be able to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with their environment and most especially with the whale sharks. I will try and see if I can find out anything more regarding this issue. Thank you shedding light to this dilemma, Erica! More power to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’ve heard about this town more and more recently and how you can swim with the whale sharks here but it may not all be above board. Thank you for going back a second time and being mindful of what is happening. You took time to check things out and I think that’s a great thing to do! It’s a tricky situation when it comes to locals making money off the wildlife: as long as they do not take advantage, hopefully we can have a balanced relationship with nature

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Shark tourism had never really interested me and to be honest I never realized there was SUCH an industry behind it, but it seems to be similar with elephant tourism in SE Asia. A lot to consider ethically when visiting these types of areas and the points you brought up highlight much of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s an environmental sustainability vs local economy (and political) issue here in Southeast Asia. On one hand, there are claims of animals being abused and exploited for commercial gains but on the other these activities help poor communities survive like in this case the locals in Oslob.

      Intervention in the form of education is definitely needed so that locals are being taught to handle certain animals the right or natural way. It’s tough and a long process but it’s a vital step in balancing these two interests.

      Like

      1. In the case of the elephant riding parks in SE Asia, a fairly large proportion of the mahouts/owners aren’t actively cruel and indeed have a very strong bond with their animals. That doesn’t make riding parks any less detrimental to the elephants’ health, but you can’t really blame the owners – elephants need to be earning or they’re unaffordable. Instead, the onus should be on tourists to do their research and (hopefully) vote with their wallets by heading to a non-riding park.

        Liked by 1 person

  27. An insightful post. We have never done it but would love to one day from a distance and enjoy watching them in their natural habitat. There is always those tourist that just have no idea or respect and want that ultimate selfie. There are also good companies who want to do right by the animals and the environment and then there are bad ones who just see dollar signs. We find doing some research on companies before going with them is better than going for the cheapest one. Thanks for sharing Erica.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. A good and balanced article. Regarding point 5, I have dived a few times at a Oslob and seen whale sharks up to 8m long. It varies each time and a few small babies always appear to be there. Sometimes the larger whale sharks are also there, feeding or just swimming around.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s