Swimming with the Gentle Giants

I was pretty excited to see the whale sharks on my birthday. I knew I would be amazed to be swimming so close to the gentle giants, but I also anticipated that I would be scared. It reminded me of an old blog about things that are worth risking, no matter how terrifying. My experience was a mixture of emotions, really.



I was amazed, watching the shark eat. It just kept opening its mouth, waiting for its food, and swallowing gallons of water each time. Well, each time water entered its mouth, the water came right out of its huge gills. I made sure I was holding on to the boat’s balancer so that I wouldn’t get too near the shark. It felt pretty close. The warning to not touch them and not get too close as I could get hurt by their fin, hung in my mind the whole time.


whale sharks in Oslob
Captured from our video, taken by our boatman. Amazing! 🙂

I was just watching this one shark when another huge one came from the left and approached the one in front of me. I was curious as to what he was gonna do, but he left right after he gently laid his head on (or maybe smelled? haha) the other one’s back. Come to think of it, I wonder what I would have done if a fight ensued between the two sharks. Come to think of it, I have very little knowledge of their behavior. Can they actually get violent? They are after all SHARKS. Yikes!


There were a couple of times that I freaked out because one passed right under us, and from the video caught by our boatman, its tail almost hit my cousin! I realize I shouldn’t have swum away, since the whale shark could’ve thought I was going to feed him and so follow me. To them, we were told, bubbles means they are going to be fed. It happened to my cousin’s husband that day haha. He made too many bubbles as he swam, and one of the sharks followed him!


Honestly, I couldn’t move away from our boat until I saw that there was only one shark left, and it was the one who never left his boatman’s side. I think that was either Seemo or Lucas. I couldn’t handle being surprised by two or more moving sharks around me haha. But it was awesome seeing them move like that.


My experience was actually bittersweet. It was indeed a privilege to swim with the gentle giants, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for them. It’s completely unnatural for whale sharks to stay in one place, but they have trained those in Oslob to stay and come around the hours of 6 in the morning till 12 noon for food, everyday. I don’t know the implication it may have on nature or on the animals themselves, but a couple of them already seemed like zombies to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the experience and for Seemo or Lucas who didn’t move much, but it was just unnatural for him to just hang there. He should be like his other friends, who freaked me out yes, but who seemed more active and free. I am not against it being a tourist attraction because it is a wonderful opportunity for us, but I wish their natural migratory behaviors or instincts were respected. I don’t know if a win-win for tourism AND the gentle giants is even possible. Wishful thinking.


One huge thing that I can commend the people of Tan-awan, Oslob for though, is their work in keeping the place clean. I did not notice any trash on the shorelines nor on the water. Thank God they were taught to take care of this opportunity by organizing the system and by being responsible for their town and their ocean’s cleanliness. Great job!


All in all, my 35th birthday was a blast. It was an awesome way to celebrate, with my precious family, what could be the half-mark of my entire lifetime! Thank you Lord for giving me 35 years, the last decade of which has belonged to You. I look forward to the rest of my years with You. Thank You for my life. It’s been some kind of wonderful. 🙂

*Ironically, I have no picture of myself in Oslob! Haha that’s what happens when I’m the photographer. I don’t mind. The memories are alive in my shots and King’s. 🙂


Oslob! (Cebu part 2)

So on the 12th, my actual birthday, we left the hotel early to drive 3 hours to Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob. We got there, prepared our gear, and got on a small bangka (canoe-like boat with balancers on the sides) to go to the next resort to pay and attend the short briefing.

>We were told that touching of whale sharks is not allowed. There is a fine of 2,500 pesos if sharks are touched.

>Sun block poisons them, so we were told to rinse off if we had already applied some, which Danae did. Noelle was sure that she wasn’t swimming so she didn’t have to rinse.

>Splashing should be avoided because whale sharks tend to follow bubbles, thinking it means food, which one of them did because my cousin-in-law made too many bubbles while swimming. Haha that was scary.

>Boatmen are there to assist us in anything we need, which they did, even taking underwater videos for us.

>They only allot 30 minutes with the whale sharks, time beginning as soon as one is in view. They took us back to our resort afterwards. There are 4 or more resorts you can choose from as your take-off point. We chose the least glamorous one haha.

We paid 500 pesos per head for those swimming. Noelle was free. If you don’t swim with the sharks, you only need to pay 300 pesos. Life vests are included in the fee, except for the girls’ which were really nice and snug. Those were 30 pesos each. Other gear including underwater cams are available for rent as well, but we brought our own. They also provided us an umbrella as the bangkas don’t have any shade.

It was a good day to go because there weren’t many people. I think there were only about 3 other boats there. We were there at the right time, around 9AM. We were told that feeding of the sharks was only till 12PM. The sun wasn’t too hot, or at least we didn’t really burn even without sunblock.

We had food grilled in our resort, which we came back to eat after a trip to Tumalog Falls. The girls swam in the murky water for a bit. That gave me some anxiety haha, thinking of what bacteria they might catch — I think I’ve turned into a bit of a germaphobe in the last few years. But I enjoyed seeing their happy faces and taking pictures. The kids got a kick out of riding a motorcycle back to the top. Walking down was so tough, we agreed to pay 30 pesos each to ride the habalhabal (motorcycle)! Only King and my cousin Dencee hiked all the way up, back to the van.

We headed back to Cebu City after lunch, but not before passing by Carcar for some chicharon and locally made shoes, and Tabu-an market for dried fish and longganiza (sausages).

Click here for our awesome underwater video.

Click here to read about our first two days.