Monday, 27 February 2012

The Whale Shark Madding Crowd in Oslob, Cebu

the whale shark of Oslob (photo by Gigi Santos)
It was indeed one last Sunday in Tan-awan Bay in the small town of Oslob (about 2-3 hours drive from Cebu City). At 6am, there were already 50 or more people huddled around the Oslob Whale Watching Center to register. And we thought we got there early...

Apparently, this sleepy town averages 300  people per day during weekends. The frenzy may be attributed to a fisherman named Dodong (wearing green in the video) who somehow managed to train the whale sharks, the largest fish in the world to be friendly. Yes, friendly! Marco Santos of  Aquaholics said "Oslob is the only place in the world where the whale shark comes to the people."

Fishermen are now called 'Gentle Giant Defenders' 
This phenomenal hand-to-mouth relationship with the whale sharks started in June 2011.

Traditionally, the fishermen of Oslob catch fish by collecting krill (Note: as corrected by Scubarazzi, the local name is uyap and the scientific name is Acetes sibogae, from the family Sergestidae) at night and use the krill as bait during the day.  As Marco narrated in the video  "One day, Dodong started throwing the krill into the water and a whale shark came to eat.. instead of shooing away the whale shark,  he said to himself that  he will keep feeding the whale shark until it gets full...  Dodong is actually the only one in the world who has domesticated the whale sharks."

under the whale shark's belly (photo by Gigi)
Today Oslob is bustling with weekend tourists - both local and foreign - who want to swim or dive with the whale sharks. We were lucky to have gone early and enjoyed a one-hour encounter using scuba diving gear. The number of divers has been limited to at least 12 per group although this is not strictly enforced.

We spotted five; however, Gigi counted six.  The whale sharks would normally go from one boat to the other looking for the "feeder boat".   We found a huge one, more than 25 ft., diagonally upright (top and left photos), happily devouring krill  and wouldn't leave despite the splashing and kicking of the snorkelers on the surface, the bubbles from us divers below, and the bancas (outrigger boats) bumping into each other. Believe it or not, after  twenty minutes,  we actually got tired of watching and swam away to look for others.

LGU mans the ticket area

Business is definitely thriving in Oslob and now everything has a price. The local government unit (LGU) currently issues tickets - P300 for ordinary viewing (meaning, stay on the boat), P320 for snorkeling, P350 for diving and an additional P100 for camera equipment. Likewise, a penalty of P5,000 is imposed on anyone caught touching the whale shark.

The life vests are rented out for P30 each and the restrooms cost P5 to P10. There are also eateries, barbecue stands, mini sari-sari stores, and t-shirt vendors.

I have mix feelings about the the fishermen. Although they are now organized and call themselves the Tanawan Oslob Whaleshark Wardens and Fishermen's Association (TOWWFA), fishing is no longer their main source of livelihood and I don't know how sustainable this whale watching tourism is. The LGU has come into the picture and split the fees collected, 40% goes to the fisherfolk. I hope that the 60% goes to coastal resources management, education and protection of the area especially from poachers.
Early morning at Oslob (photo by Marge Buot)
Gigi checking the dive equipment 
Loading of dive gear on the raft
 Villa on the Cliff with the view of Sumilon Island

Places to stay: Villa on the Cliff (Oslob), Sumilon Bluewater Resort (on Sumilon Island), Club Serena  (Moalboal).


Scubarazzi said...
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Scubarazzi said...

Krill (local name: uyap; scientific name: Acetes sibogae; from the family Sergestidae) are a completely different animal from brine shrimp (SN: Artemia salina). In fact, brine shrimp do not occur naturally in open seas but in brine lakes, hence the name. Kindly correct this.

Scubarazzi said...

(Actually, if we're gonna be REALLY technical, true krill aren't even shrimp, but belong to a different order altogether. Calling the uyap "sergestids", however, doesn't roll of the tongue as easily as when we just call them krill...)

Clint John Cabigon said...

This giant creatures are very adorable. Visit Oslob