Monday, 15 February 2016

Philippines Whale Shark Interaction. Good or Bad? And Where's Best - Oslob or Donsol?

We were very interested to receive some feedback from guests who had travelled to the Philippines and who had experienced whale shark interaction in both Donsol, Bicol, AND Oslob, Cebu. Their verdict made interesting reading on a subject that seems to have divided opinion, especially regarding the welfare of these magnificent creatures...

"We would like to share with you more information about the whale shark interaction side of things.  We had a great experience at Oslob - 40+ minutes swimming with relaxed gentle whale sharks with just five minutes in a paddled boat to get to the site from the centre / shore.

We were aware of previous concerns raised about the health of the Oslob whale sharks, we watched carefully and they seemed very healthy and in no way injured. There were 12 whale sharks in our pod which was apparently the second 'shift' for the day. 

Also the guides at Oslob were proactive in taking photos of you with your own go-pro which improved the experience even more.

Oslob contrasted markedly with Donsol with 3.5 hours of searching with twenty + other high powered, noisy boats to see nothing (four boats returned with nil result).

Their so-called 'strict' rules include allowing up to 30 high powered boats with six guests each with only six guests at a time near a shark. These dozens of boats criss-cross an area for hours to try and find one but obviously if there are any sharks there they simply dive deep.

Then there was a frantic dash to a spot with a single young 4m whale shark.  More than thirty snorkelers then jumped into the water urged on by their official Butanding Interaction Officers (who are there to protect the sharks...) to be about 30cm from the shark with GoPros and Selfie sticks and fins splashing everywhere, chasing it.  The whale shark was clearly being harassed and so it dived.

I saw the whale shark for a maximum of six seconds, maybe (out of a four hour boat search and return). Many guests could not get out of their boats fast enough so they missed out. Surprisingly, the interaction centre staff genuinely all thought this was an amazingly great experience and were very happy and smiling about it all, congratulating us on our success.

The official record for that day shows that two whale sharks were sighted (a fisherman saw another one somewhere else but not near the tourists) and guests swam with it and enjoyed it, and this looks like every other report. The reality is quite a different story when put in a more accurate perspective with the facts. Their rules about 3m exclusion zones and not touching, blocking or harassing the animals all go out the window when they only have one very brief chance to interact and the BIOs actually encouraged it.

There are virtually no sustained sightings near Donsol - either the whale sharks are not there or they are but dive deep to avoid the powerboats.  They refer to a 10 metre shark being spotted by fishermen in the area but I expect it is a loner that is smart enough to avoid the tourists.  

Talking to the very experienced guides, it seems there are no big number sightings at Donsol these days, with one to two being the norm (four is a big day)." - Mark, Australia

Thanks to Mark for taking the trouble to pass on his experiences. We continue to send guests to both Donsol and Oslob for the experience of swimming with whale sharks. We know the whale sharks are an important part of each area's local economy, so we hope they are looked after, and that the regulations that help protect these creatures are observed.