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I can’t believe we actually had a super close encounter with whale sharks (locally known as butanding) in Oslob in the South Eastern Coast of Cebu (3 hours away from the city)!

Our experience here’s better than in Donsol. In Oslob, the whale sharks congregate in one area near the beach where the fishermen feed them krill (small saltwater shrimps) every morning.

Also, they seem to act like pets of the fishermen and are now getting used to the presence of humans watching them everyday.

Unlike Donsol, there’s a higher chance you’ll see the giant creatures up close without the need to chase them.

Is Whale Watching in Oslob really more fun for the fishermen, the tourists, the whale sharks and Mother Earth?

Read on about our Whale Shark Encounter, and what we think of the issues surrounding the Butandings in Oslob… 

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It is advised to start early at 6 a.m. to beat the rush of tourist crowds.

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The best place to stay is Bluewater Sumilon, which is located on an island 30 minutes off the coast of Oslob, Cebu. We woke up really early, just had coffee and went straight out for Whale Shark Watching.

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The beaches of Oslob were relatively unheard of in the past years, but this summer 2012, it will be the hottest destination to watch the majestic whale sharks.

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The local municipality of Oslob started to organize the Whale Watching tours with makeshift tents selling breakfast and souvenir items.

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You have to register in the log book and pay P300 per head as per the Oslob Ordinance.

When the whale watching initially started, the fishermen directly benefited from it. But now, the Oslob Municipality wants to profit from it and just pay the fishermen a boat rental fee.

That’s not fair. The fishermen should be given credit and appropriate profit-sharing for developing this latest tourist attraction.

The Cebu Provincial Government wants to enter the picture as well. But why?

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The Oslob Municipality requires all tourists to undergo an orientation on the Whale Shark’s 10 Commandments.

Honestly, it’s one of the lousiest orientations I’ve ever attended. The orienter just basically read aloud the printout of the 10 Commandments. So, where does the P300 per head go?

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Whale Sharks are wild animals and should be treated with respect. Here are the engagement rules:

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It is easy to forget these rules when the sharks are up close and look quite gentle. Remember not to touch them and stay away from the tail fin!

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The fishermen use dugout canoes that they paddle manually to the sighting area. Each boat can handle 1-2 persons.

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You only have a 30-minute window to see the whale sharks to give everyone a chance to view them (with a ratio of 1 whale shark to 6 tourists). In Donsol, they don’t have a time limit but they are very strict about the whale shark-to-tourist ratio.

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It was a surreal experience for us — imagine encountering these whale sharks up close!

The only other place in the world that you can have the same type of encounter is in Papua.

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Only manually paddled boats are allowed since motorized boats could hurt these gentle giants.

Oslob Butandings by Vic-12.jpgThe butandings would often follow the fishermen who give them krill during their feeding time of 6am to 1pm daily.

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Some environmental conservationists argue that humans should not tamper with wildlife by feeding them, creating a co-dependent relationship with the animal.

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The whale sharks tend to bump into the boats as they go up to eat their krill breakfast.  Only the fishermen are allowed to feed them.

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But even if you can’t feed them, you get the chance to view the whale sharks like never before.

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Don’t forget to bring your snorkeling gear, fins, and underwater camera to capture unforgettable moments.

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Majority of the tourists can’t help but jump into the water, driven by their excitement to see the whale sharks up close. I guess keeping the 1 whale shark : 6 tourists ratio can be very challenging for the fishermen.

The total number of boats and tourists should be controlled at any given time.

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Again, remember not to touch them and stay away from the whiplash of the tail fin!

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Butandings look scary and cute at the same time underwater. Please respect these wild creatures.

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Getting back into the banca is an exercise in upper body strength. It makes a good early morning workout. 🙂

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Otherwise, you can just hang on to the tail end of the banca.

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It is best experienced with your loved one, your family or barkada.

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The Oslob Whale Shark Encounter is controversial because of its potential dangers and effects on the animals. Do we allow the fishermen to continually feed the whale sharks and make them dependent on these feeding sessions so that tourists can watch them each day?

We certainly need experts (WWF and marine biologists, among others) to intervene and analyze the sustainability and impact of this Fisherman-Whale Shark friendship.

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I must admit, though, that we had a lot of fun in our close encounter with the whale sharks. We were like kids again, jumping up and down, raving about the wondrous butanding experience.

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The Oslob Butandings urgently need expert help and the implementation of a Comprehensive Eco-Tourism Program. Tourist Whale Watching activities also need to be strictly controlled before the politicians (who just want to profit from it) and the volume of tourists this summer scare these majestic creatures away…

Whale Shark Watcher’s Organization
Mobile: +63 918 965-1673
Email: [email protected]

Related Articles: Jaws my friend! The touching relationship between a fisherman and a very sociable whale SHARK

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Full Disclosure: This is a personal trip hosted by Julie and Vic, Managing Partners of Bluewater Resorts, to showcase Cebu to their Manila-based friends.

P.S. What do you think of the Oslob Whale Sharks situation?