Whale Sharks!

posted in: Nature, Philippines | 0
One thing that I was really really really excited about was seeing whale sharks. I tried seeing them in Palawan, but I was too early. I heard you could see them in Tan-Awan, Oslob, so I made this one of my last stop in the Philippines. I was not going to miss my chance at seeing those gentle giants.

Quick side note on the subject: whale sharks have been in Oslob for a long time, the fishermen just didn’t know what they were. Oslob used to be a fishing town before becoming the tourist attraction it is now.

So I left Cebu on a bus bound to Oslob, it was really easy enough. People at the bus terminal were really helpful. Filled with anticipation I got to the resort, went through the briefing on whale sharks and made my way in the water. I hired a camera to immortalize the moment. Hiring the camera proved to be a mistake as the guy handling the camera turned this into a photo-shoot where they literally ducked me under water at the call of “1, 2, 3”. Breath no breath, I went under. I drank quite a bit of seawater. The thing I regret the most is not the seawater though, it’s how little time I had to admire the marine creatures… Basically a few seconds in between every dunking.

I should have forgone the camera and just enjoyed my swim with the sharks.

 (Try not to pay to much attention to the not so gracious me, but more the magic of the moment from this picture)
Despite how amazed I was – and still am – at the thought of these eight meters long marvels of nature, I was much distressed at realizing they were fed shrimps and kept there in the waters crowded with tourists who wanted to catch a glimpse of them, just like me I am afraid. I felt guilty for my actions afterward, knowing that these daily feeding disrupt the migratory pattern of the sharks and is detrimental to the specie overall. Like a fellow traveler put it, if a free pizzeria opened its door in my neighborhood, I might never want to move out!

I know some people will overlook the conservation and humane aspect for the pleasure of swimming with them. However, I truly believe respectable travelers must always question the impact of their actions. If your actions have bad repercussions when visiting a place, you should abstain. Even if it sucks and even if it was something you really wanted to do. This is called integrity. If I had known just how detrimental the practices were in Oslob, I would not have gone and would have waited for another opportunity. In the Philippines, you can see whale sharks in a more responsible way in Palawan and Donsol. You can also see them in other countries such as Australia. I will never encourage whale shark sighting in Oslob as long as they don’t straighten up their practices. And I hope that knowing this, you will also make the right choice.

Back to the sharks though, because since I did see them I might as well share with you the details and try to carry across why I was so delighted with them. First, try to imagine these gigantic creatures opening their mouth to aspire food (I keep thinking of slurping up noodles… not sure why) the suction created in the water is impressive in itself – like having a giant drain right next to you. Not sure if it’s a good thing, but it sure is impressive!

Second, for me, were the gills. When these things gets going, the undulation is mesmerizing. Imagine a bunch of manta rays swimming sideways parallel to each other. Now, picture their flowing movements  combined – this is what shark whales gills look like. I wish I could come up with a better comparison, but I fear it’s the best I can do…

Their sheer size is not to be overlooked either. Now imagine such a giant creature gliding gracefully in the water uncaring of your presence – like a sumo ballerina. A shark bumped into me when I was unaware of its approach, it was a little bit scary, but the shark didn’t mind at all. It was like I was too meaningless for him to even notice me.

(Do I look freaked out enough for you here?)

I would like to point out to the beautiful spotted pattern on their back, like a thousand freckles. When the sun breaks the surface of the water, it falls apart like shards of light that create quite a neat effect when combined with the spotted pattern.

Learn more about the whale shark here!

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