Swim with Gentle Giants: A Guide to Oslob Whale Shark Watching in 2023
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If you're looking for an extraordinary experience in Southern Cebu, Oslob's whale shark watching should be at the top of your list. Oslob, a charming town in Cebu, Philippines, offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for tourists to swim with these gentle giants locally called butanding. In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your unforgettable Oslob whale shark-watching experience.
How do we get to Oslob from major cities or airports in the Philippines?
- Fly into Cebu City or Mactan International Airport, both well-connected to major cities.
- From Cebu City, head to the South Bus Terminal and take a bus to Oslob (about 3-4 hours).
- Inform the driver that you're going to Oslob Whale Shark Watching, and they'll drop you off at Tan-awan, the jump-off point for the activity.
- For more convenience, you can also join group tours with van transfer from Cebu City. You can book these tours here:
How does the whale shark watching happen?
Although I am not a fan of any forms of unnatural fish feeding, I guess a visit to Oslob will not be complete without seeing the magnificent butanding. During whale watching in Oslob, the typical steps involved are:
- Arrival and Registration: Upon arriving at the whale shark watching site, visitors need to register with the local authorities or tour operators. Here, they will receive essential information and guidelines for the activity.
- Briefing: Before the encounter, there will be a briefing session to educate participants about the do's and don'ts during the whale shark interaction. This includes maintaining a safe distance, not touching the whale sharks, and avoiding flash photography.
- Boarding the Boat: Tourists will board a boat that will take them to the whale shark interaction area. These boats are typically equipped with life jackets and snorkeling gear. The waters of Oslob tend to be very deep, possibly because of the strong waves. Whales swim almost only a few meters (less than 10, I think) from land. They swim so near that you can almost see their fins bobbing in and out of the water while standing along the shore. However, the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fisherman's Association (TOSWFA) won't allow tourists to just swim towards to the viewing area for security purposes.
- Spotting the Whale Sharks: Once the boat reaches the designated area where the whales are being fed, you can opt to snorkel or stay on the boat. You should still be able to see these big mammals from the boat although not as clear as you would if you snorkel.
- Photo Taking: You will also be given time to take photos with the whale shark so bring your underwater cameras. Your guides can double as your photographers and service is included in the fee, so take advantage of it. If you have some extra cash, give some tip to your boatman/guides.
- Returning to Shore: After the allocated time (usually 30 minutes) for the interaction is over, the boat will take participants back to the shore.
It's important to note that the steps and procedures may vary slightly depending on the tour operator and local regulations. The priority during the whale watching activity is always the safety and well-being of both the participants and the whale sharks. Responsible and sustainable tourism practices are crucial to protect these magnificent creatures and their natural habitat.
What is the best time to visit Oslob for whale shark watching?
- The whale sharks can be spotted year-round in Oslob.
- The dry season (December to May) offers better visibility for a more enjoyable encounter.
- Whale shark watching takes place daily from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM only. The earlier you do your whale watching, the better, so you can take advantage of minimal crowd.
- The area starts to get crowded around 7:30 am, especially on weekends so make sure you get to the area early. You don't want fins and strangers' butts on your underwater shots.
- The activity lasts for 30 minutes, and participants are divided into batches for diving and snorkeling.
How much does the activity cost? Where do I book?
- Fees vary for Filipino and foreign tourists.
- You will be given 2 choices for whale watching - one is if you will stay on the boat or if you would like to swim and snorkel with the whales.
- For whale watching (without snorkeling) plus life vest rental, Filipino tourists pay PHP 500, while foreign tourists pay PHP 1,000.
- For those who wish to snorkel, the fees are PHP 1,000 for Filipinos and PHP 1,500 for foreign tourists.
- If you have your own snorkeling gear, you will still need to pay the full amount. No deduction in the fee, sadly.
- Note that these prices may change without further notice.
- There are also more expensive packages but inclusive of other activities such as a visit to the Tumalog falls or Sumilon Island, and it comes with either private or join-in transportation from Cebu City. You can book these tours here:
Are there any age or swimming skill restrictions for participating in the whale shark watching activity?
- The activity is suitable for both beginners and experienced swimmers.
- Children aged 7 and above are allowed to swim with whale sharks. Those below 7 years old are not allowed but they can watch from the boat.
- Free admission is given for kids under the age of 2 years.
- Life jackets are mandatory for all participants regardless if they are staying on the boat or snorkeling.
What are the guidelines and regulations in place to protect the whale sharks and their habitat?
To ensure the safety of both tourists and the majestic whale sharks, strict rules and regulations are in place. These rules and regulations set by the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fisherman's Association (TOSWFA) for the protection of the whales as well as the guests. Here are some important guidelines to follow:
- No touching or feeding the whale sharks.
- Flash photography is not allowed to avoid disturbing the whale sharks.
- Refrain from applying sunscreen or any chemicals before swimming.
- Remove jewelry or accessories.
- Keep a distance of at least 4 meters (about 13 feet) from the whale sharks.
- Avoid littering in the area.
- The number of visitors is regulated to avoid overwhelming the whale sharks.
What are the controversies surrounding Oslob whale shark watching?
While Oslob's whale shark watching is undoubtedly a popular attraction worldwide, it has also faced some controversy. The boatmen feeding the whale sharks with shrimps to lure them near the shore for tourists to swim with has raised concerns. This has become a daily habit for the whales which has obviously disrupted their natural behavior.
Another concern raised was overcrowding and how it impacts marine life. To address the issue, some suggest limiting the number of people in the water and implementing tighter regulations for snorkelers.
What are the other attractions or activities available in Oslob aside from whale shark watching?
- Visit the enchanting Tumalog Falls, known for its stunning cascades and natural pools. Read our blog: Tumalog Falls, a Waterfalls Worth the Chase
- Explore the picturesque town of Oslob, known for its rich history and friendly locals.
- Find out what else you can do in Oslob here: Things to Do in and Around Oslob
Where can I stay around Oslob area?
Oslob offers various accommodation options to suit different budgets. If you are looking for affordable accommodations, you can refer to our list here: Cheap Accommodations in Oslob
If you have any comments or questions, feel free to post them here: