Ecotourism

What Really Happens When You Swim With The Whale Sharks In Oslob, Cebu?

Cebu

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Jessica Solomatenko | Mar 02, 2017

It's not an easy question to answer.

In recent years there have been quite a few articles and advocates who have encouraged people not to visit the whale sharks in Oslob. In order to have the whale sharks returning to the area daily so that visitors can swim with them, feeders give the sharks fish. This has resulted in the whales having an unnatural amount of contact with humans.

The artificial feeding behavior has taught the whales to associate people with food. They will now sometimes approach boats rather than staying away from them which can lead to injuries. Injuries can also occur if tourists in the water accidentally kick a shark. 

The feeding has also resulted in the sharks having less variety in their diet as they spend more time eating the fish that are given to them rather than plankton and such. Some of the whale sharks spend up to 6 hours a day feeding in Oslob instead of foraging naturally. In the future, this could end up causing nutritional problems.

Additionally, the migratory patterns of the sharks have also changed. The breeding pool of the sharks or the spread of this vulnerable and declining species may be influenced by this. It is hard to say though as the whale sharks are difficult to study and concrete answers hard to come by. Obviously, the best thing for these whale sharks is to be freely swimming and living the way nature intended.

Having tourists visit Oslob to see the whale sharks is a relatively new practice.

Back in 2011 photos of fishermen interacting with whale sharks in Oslob were featured in Mail Online. The article was largely positive with conservationist Shawn Heinrich praising the bond that had formed between the sharks and fishermen in Oslob.

In other places in the region, the same whale sharks were being slaughtered by fishermen. It seems strange that a conservationist would applaud fishermen touching, riding and playing with the sharks until you consider just how bad the slaughter of the whale shakes in the region is.

Whale sharks also still continue to fetch a lot of money in the Asian market. In China a single whale shark at market can bring in $30,000 USD or more, though the fishermen usually get considerably less than that. About 600 whale sharks a year were killed in just one slaughterhouse in Southern China it was found in an investigation between 2010 and 2013. 

While the sharks are a protected species in Philippines, China and other countries which do not protect the sharks, share many of these fishing waters as well as the migratory paths of the whale sharks with the Philippines. 

Donsol Bay and Oslob

Both Donsol Bay in the Bicol Region of Luzon and Oslob, Cebu are well known for whale sharks. They have both created tourism industries for their small towns around them. As a result, the fishermen who once killed them in these areas now protect the whale sharks as tourist dollars bring in more money for them and the entire community.

The major difference between the two sites though is that the whale sharks are not fed in Donsol Bay. This way there is no unnatural feeding, no increased contact with boats, and migratory patterns are not affected. But it also means that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark when you go out in your boat even during the peak viewing season.

In the past couple of years, reports from tourists started to come out that the whale sharks of Donsol Bay were gone. People were sighting one or no sharks for extended periods of time. This continued for a few years and tourism in the area dropped considerably. Though it seems that the whale sharks have been returning to the area, it is hard to lure people back...

Click here to read the rest of this article about swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines!


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