Being so close to these giant fish was thrilling beyond believe, read all about our phenomenal time with whale sharks.
Out of all of the amazing things that we have seen and done, from seeing the temples of Angkor, the Taj Mahal, paragliding in the Himalayas , swimming with whale sharks was equally unforgettable. Being immersed in crystal clear waters with these gentle giants gliding around you, only inches away, is something totally out of this world.
Whale Shark Watching Centre
We left for the whale shark centre at 6am, barely awake. Driving up the island with the jungle to my left with towering palm trees and the glimmering ocean on my right was enough to jolt me awake in no time. When we got to the whale shark centre I was so surprised to see the place already buzzing with people. There were young people, elderly, even families with young children, a total surprise.
Before we got into the boats, we were given a short safety presentation about the whale sharks and how to interact with them. Whale sharks are totally harmless, they only feed on tiny plankton in the sea but we were told to keep a safe distance and never to touch the sharks. By this point I have to say I was feeling slightly sick with excitement and nerves.
As we got to the beach we saw huge crowds of people and so many small boats transporting people back and forth. To be honest, it wasn’t at all how I imagined it to be. I thought we’d be in a small group going out into the ocean and jumping in when we catch the sight of a whale shark. Instead, what happens is that you’re transported in a small boat, only a 100 odd meters away from the shore, and line up along several other boats, whilst a fisherman goes around throwing food into the water. To be honest it did feel like a conveyor belt of tourists and took away some of the magic.
There is also an ethical question which you start to ponder about straight away. Is it right? The sharks are not harmed in any way or caged, but the problem is that they are migratory animals and by feeding them for tourism you essentially prevent the migration. So this is a pretty big downside. But after coming here we did find out about another place in the Philippines, Donsol, where you can swim with whale sharks in a more environmentally friendly way.
Swimming with whale sharks
As our boat neared the area where the sharks were swimming, we could see their flat heads pop out of the water and swallow the feed. My heart was literally jumping at this point. Ava was very excited too, she even wanted jump in and feed them.
One by one we jumped into the warm, crystal clear waters along with other excited swimmers. Seeing the whale sharks for the first time was intense and a little frightening if I’m honest, they are huge and at times only inches away! Whale sharks are actually the largest fish in the sea and can grow up to more than 40 feet and weigh more than 20 tonnes, which gives you some idea how big they can get!
Quite quickly though you do get over the fear and realise how incredibly peaceful they are, just gliding along and getting their food, it was actually quite calming to watch them.
The water was so clear I could see the bottom of the ocean and not only the whale sharks but also hundreds of smaller fishes swimming around too.
Watching as a whale shark swims under me
At one point I saw one swim right under me and another swim across at the same time, this was super cool and the most exhilarating feeling ever!
The sharks are beautiful to look at, they have a striking pattern of white spots on their bodies which glow as the sun light hits. It’s mesmerising just watching them swim around and at times it even felt like they were watching us.
Ru swimming after a whale shark
Ru was very excited and totally fearless as always. As soon as he jumped into the water, he took off his snorkels and dived straight in swimming after them.
We saw three whale sharks on the first day and one that was really huge, you could see its tail grazing the ocean floor as its mouth was skimming the surface trying to catch the food.
Our thirty minutes in the water disappeared with the blink of an eye and before we knew it we were headed back to shore. As we left we were buzzing with excitement and completely in awe to have been in the presence of such majestic creatures.
Although it’s such a short trip, the plus side is that it’s really affordable ($25 for snorkelling) so we ended up doing it every day. The other great thing is that you are pretty much guaranteed to see some sharks, we saw between 3-5 sharks each time.
Beautiful waterfalls in Cebu
After the snorkelling we headed off to a nearby waterfall to continue the water fun. There are so many beautiful waterfalls to explore all around Cebu, hidden away in the tropical dense jungles.
Our time in Cebu was most definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far and I’m already dreaming about coming back.
- Money: – Take cash with you before getting to Oslob – there are limited cash machines and even if you find one at times they only allow withdrawals from locals. There are some money exchange places, so good to have some foreign currency as an emergency. The whale shark centre is cash only as are most places in Oslob.
- Visiting the centre: There are two parts to the Oslob Whale Shark Watching Centre. One where you complete the paperwork and they have lockers to store your things, another part which is a short 2 minute drive away, where the boats leave. You can also buy tickets here too and avoid the unnecessary fee of being transported across.
- Don’t wear any sunscreen when going to swim with whale sharks as it’s harmful to their habitat and you could be fined.
- Take a scarf or other item to cover up in the heat before jumping into the water.
- Go as early as possible, the excursions start around 6am. The heat is bearable and it’s less crowded.
- Where to stay: – We stayed at The Farm which is a small family run hotel a short 15 minute ride from the whale shark centre. This place was like a retreat, it has lovely open spaces to walk around and for Ava to play. She also made friends with the owners children. The food here was also brilliant and it’s all home cooked.
- Taking kids? If you’re going to take small children with you to go snorkelling with the sharks then it’s best to take it in turns to go out on the boat trip as it is very short excursion. There are lots of restaurants along the beach where you can wait and take turns.
- GoPro tips: – The first time we used to GoPro it was terrible, we were moving around so much it gave us a headache to watch the clips back. It’s best to keep totally still when recording and just pan the camera across slowly. Remember the GoPro has a wide angle lens so you don’t even need to get that close or even move around a lot to capture the action.