It felt like plunging into a humonguous aquarium.
The water was crystal clear, the visibility wickedly great. And right in front, below, to the right and left, and finally, behind, are the world’s biggest fish. Four, five, six—it was useless to even count. And they didn’t look like they were going anywhere else.
One, two, three. How many whalesharks do you see?
We came to Oslob, a seaside town in southern Cebu, to take photos of the whalesharks, locally called tuki. We did not leave disappointed.
The moment we were out of the boat, a tuki was feeding right in front, about five meters away. Having previously seen only three seconds of them in Donsol, it felt amazing to finally see them from up close and under perfect weather conditions. The light was incredible. It was like seeing a film in 3D on the big screen at three meters away.
As the tuki opened and closed its mouth near the surface, it was also displacing so much water that would cause the boat to bob slightly. Its gills were as long as an arm, but its eyes were incredibly small.
It was difficult to gauge how big it exactly was, however. Every single one of them was big anyway, the smallest even larger than our boat.
We had half an hour to snorkel around the area where the tuki are fed krill, and throughout that period, we swam with no fewer than four at a time.
The area for whaleshark watching was no more than 20 meters from the shore, a swimmable distance
Though whale sharks have a gentle nature, we still felt a rush of panic when one of them comes up from behind and swims to our direction. Especially in Oslob, it was difficult to keep track of the surrounding waters. There were just too many of them.
To feed or not to feed—that is the question
But then we are also aware that Oslob has since been under fire for feeding the whalesharks that pass by its waters. Without this feeding practice, it is unknown whether whalesharks will linger in Tan-Awan’s waters or swim away, along with the town’s newfound livelihood.
Underwater photographer Steve De Neef, which has worked extensively on whale shark conservation in the Philippines, has this to say.
What we believe should happen, especially in light of different practices in Donsol—where there are also whaleshark sightings—is that the government should intervene and come up with sustainable and uniform regulations that will apply not just to Oslob but also to Donsol.
In the meantime, tourists like us who can access these creatures via these means should always exercise good judgement and follow the rules—among others, no touching, no flash photography, no swimming near the tail, because gentle though they are, they’re so big that one brush against their tail will send you (or that part of you) in bandages and/or crutches sooner than you think.
If you are looking for accommodations in Oslob or anywhere in Cebu, do check out Agoda or Airbnb.