Seeing Whale Sharks in the Philippines
There are two main places to see whale sharks in the Philippines Donsol, Southern Luzon and Oslob, Cebu. Here we will tell you how to get to both places, cost, what to bring and finally why you should go to Donsol instead for Oslob.
But firstly why you should go out of your efforts to see a whale shark
Whale Sharks are the biggest fish our planet has to offer, the adults in Donsol usually weigh 19000 tonnes and have a length of 4 meters to 10 meters. The biggest whale shark in the world was measured to be 12.5 meters with a weight of 21.5 metric tonnes, maybe you will spot one of those if you are really lucky. The spots on the whale sharks are unique to every whale shark, like fingerprints to people.
- The whale shark is the biggest fish on our planet, it can weigh up to an astonishing 20 metric tonnes or more.
- There are only three species that are filter feeders in the world, whale sharks, megamouth and basking sharks.
- They can measure up to 12 meters
- Scientific nameRhincodon typus
- There only predator that the whale sharks have are humans.
- Their skeletons are made out of cartilage, unlike other fishes that are made bone.
- Countries to see whale sharks Mexico, the Galapagos, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, Japan, Belize, India, Seychelles, Mozambique, Honduras and South Africa.
- Whale sharks are sexually mature at 30 years old.
- Whale sharks may live up to a 100 years.
- Their mouths are up two meters and they contain 300 rows filled with thousands of teeth.
How they do they eat
Whale sharks most preferable meal is bloom plankton; they eat them by sucking in water through their gills to catch plankton while they swim. An interesting fact that is very rare in whale shark is while they catch food they tend to do this in a vertical position. Due to feeding like this, they tend to stay in deep waters around 21 to 25 degrees Celsius. But whale sharks can also be found in reefs and atoll regions feeding on small and large fish like sardines, mackerels and small tuna.
What to bring
- You should defiantly buy a snorkel set before you get there, it is way more expensive to buy on location because there are just a couple of stores that offer snorkels and masks.
- Camera/GoPro could be good to bring to immortalise those close encounters with the gentle giants. Don’t forget a waterproof case!
- Swimwear doesn’t really need a reason why.
- Waterproof sunscreen as you are going to be out on a boat for at least a couple of hours getting to the destination.
- Sunglasses so you don’t get blinded by the sun.
- Water is always a good idea to bring, keep yourself hydrated.
- Snacks could be a smart idea to bring.
Seeing the whale sharks in Donsol
The best way to see the whale sharks in the Philippines is to go and see them at Donsol, as they are the most eco-friendly and humane whale shark tour group compared to in Oslob. In Oslob there has been a controversy subject since the operations begun and they do not go by the guidelines put in place to protect and not interfere with these creatures way of life. In Donsol they are very serious about the guidelines and protecting the whale sharks. In Donsol you start your whale shark experience with an educational movie about what to do and what not do when interacting with the whale sharks. Then you get to go to the boat and meet your boat driver. Once the boat is out on the water the boat driver will shout ´whale shark! whale shark!´ and you will have to jump in the water as fast as you can and wait for the whale shark to swim under or beside you. After it passes you step on to the boat and repeat. Remember that whale sharks are animals and animals are very unpredictable so you might not see any or you might see a lot. They mainly eat plankton and krill so there is no need to be concerned with them nibbling on you.
A summary of the rules at Donsol
- Stay 4 meters away
- Don’t use flash photography
- 1 boat per whale shark
- Don’t touch the whale sharks
- Don’t feed the whale sharks
Price for the tour at Donsol
The price for the boat is 3500 pesos (does not matter how many you are) and the then there is a 300 peso fee per person. Don’t forget to bargain no price is set in stone!
The season that whale sharks are at Donsol
It could depend on the year but it is usually from December to May, I recommend going in February for optimal chance to snorkel with them. Sometimes you can see the whale sharks as soon as in November and as late as June.
How to get to Donsol
You can’t fly directly to Donsol so you will have to fly to Legazpi City and then take a bus or another means of transportation. You can find really cheap flights to Legazpi and I recommend booking a flight a couple of weeks in advance to get the best price. I myself used skyscanner.com and found tickets as cheap as 25USD, maybe I had a bit of luck but they should cost 35USD to 60USD. Be aware of Philippine holidays it could make the tickets more expensive for you. After arriving in Legazpi City take a taxi, motorcycle, jeepney or a minivan to Donsol, it should cost between 1.5USD to 6USD depending on your choice of transportation.
It’s very cheap to travel by bus to Legazpi from Manila, but it also depends on what class you chose. It should cost between 10 to 22USD and first and second class should almost always have 3G wifi. But beware that second class often has no bathrooms. Add 3 to 5 dollars to get to Donsol from Legazpi but remember that buses and vans might stop going there at 19:00.
Seeing the whale sharks in Oslob
A summary of the rules
- Stay arms reach away
- Don’t use flash photography
- Don’t touch the whale sharks
Price for the tour at Oslob
It is a 1000 pesos for foreigners, 500 pesos for the Philippines and if you are a local from Oslob its only 150 pesos.
The season that whale sharks are at Oslob
Whale sharks can be spotted at Oslob all year around due to lack of migration of whale sharks because of feeding for tourism.
How to get to Oslob
From Manila, you can fly to Cebu City and get a bus, taxi or minivan to Oslob. The best way to get there is from Cebu Mactan airport get to the Southern bus terminal which is 30 minutes from the airport and a 300 peso taxi. From the bus terminal, you can get a bus to Oslob for 150 peso which takes 3 hours. From Oslob, you can find a tour group to take you to see the whale sharks.
Another way to see the whale sharks is to go to Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol which is a popular tourist attraction in the Philippines. From Alona, you can do day trips to Oslob costing 600 per person and takes 3 hours. To get to Alona beach you can fly into Tagbilaran from Manila and get a taxi from the airport costing 300 pesos to Alona beach. From Cebu, you can get a ferry from pier 2 in Cebu and take the 2 hours ferry costing 300 pesos or more to Tagbilaran and get a taxi to Alona.
History of whale sharks in Oslob
In 1988 whale sharks became protected from capture, sale, export or transport in the Philippines. The Philippines was the first country to protect whale sharks and try to help their species survive. Seven years before the protection law 627 whale sharks were hunted, now whale sharks cannot be harmed or sold dead or alive and they cannot be harmed in any way in the Philippines. But that is by law in a country where the rule of law is weak.
After this protection law came out fisherman were trying to lure the whale sharks away from their fishing bait instead of harming them or scaring them away by leading them away with small amounts of food. Soon a dive centre owner discovered this and paid the fisherman to lure them to Oslob so the dive centre could get paid to take people out to see them. This was the beginning of the whale shark tourism industry in Oslob. Back then there was no regulation for touristic interaction with whale sharks but now there are regulations about interaction, educational briefing and fees for tourists.
Why see Whale Sharks in Donsol Instead of Oslob
The rules between Donsol and Oslob are very different. In Oslob they allow you to be closer than Donsol allowing them to accidently touch humans more often. Humans have a lot of bacteria that whale sharks are likely to get an infection from. Within a week of having new whale sharks in Oslob, they develop scars and infection as the older whale sharks have.
The other rule that Oslob does not contribute to as Donsol does is feeding the whale sharks. There are many issues to the future and health of the whale sharks. By nature whale sharks are migration creatures, they usually travel along the coastal lines of the Philippines and other countries to reach the most nutritious and fresh plankton. But in Oslob, they feed the whale shark less natural and processed food to lure them into the bay and to make them stay there for longer periods. This has impacts on their nutrition as they are not getting enough variety due to their lack of migration. Lack of migration is also changing the biological purpose and possibly damaging the future of the whale shark population by negatively affecting their breeding cycles.
In Donsol there is only 1 boat per whale shark allowed, in Oslob, there can be so many boats you have to watch your head when swimming around. This poses threats to the whale sharks by making them to familiar to boats. In Oslob the whale sharks are so preoccupied getting as close to the boats as possible to be fed as there is not enough food naturally in the waters for them to be satisfied this causing them to frequently bump into the boats causing them to get injuries, get hit or pushed away from the fisherman and most damaging be too comfortable with other boats when they leave Oslob waters. In Oslob, the boats do not have propellers on them, but other fishing boats do, meaning that they get fatal injuries from coming into contact with the boats. As well as being fished in non-protected waters.
Finally, the best reason not to see whale sharks in Oslob is to avoid the whale shark circus and let these animals free to live long lives and be protected! If you love whale sharks then you would not want to harm them and the future of their species by promoting areas where they are not protected and regulations are not followed.
Support Large Marine Vertebrates Project Philippines (LAMAVE)
LAMAVE is a nonprofit organisation that has a research base in Oslob that studies the negative impact interactional tourism in Oslob has on the whale sharks. They maintain a tracking database of the whale sharks throughout Oslob to learn about the impacts of tourism has on their distribution, population and migration patterns. Through research, they aim to help ecotourism in the Philippines by developing the proper form of tourism that do not negatively affect the whale sharks and for Oslob to model their procedure of operation and interaction as Donsol´s.