Ethical ways to see Whale Sharks in the Philippines
I’ve heard them described as “Elephants of the Sea”, “The Oceans’ puppy-dogs”, and “Giraffe-whales” due to the white spots that dot the bodies of the gigantic Whale Sharks. These monstrous (okay, not really) “sharks” are actually the worlds’ largest fish. They don’t have teeth. They aren’t aggressive. But they certainly due draw huge crowds to the island of Cebu, in the Philippines. But should you make a trip to snorkel with them?
Ethical Problems with Oslob
Here’s the ethical dilemma surrounding the whale sharks:
They are becoming semi-domesticated by the tourism industry in Cebu. Companies are making a serious killing by charging people to snorkel with them just off the coast of the island. The sharks can be found in the shallow waters off the Eastern shore near Oslob, where they approach small boats to be fed slices of fish, as they swim back and forth along a train of boats filled with snorkelers. “Whale Watching” is more like a “Whale Shark Feeding Zoo”.Dr. Arnel Yaptinchay, a specialist in marine ecology stated that, “Oslob is a poor example and cannot be called ecotourism as it leads to miseducation regarding respecting, using and interacting with any wildlife responsibly” (Al Jazeera).
Their migration patterns are interrupted. They eat fish that they may-or-may-not eat in the wild. They swim dangerously close to tourists. They are subjected to chemicals from sunscreens, hair gels, and other man made products that wash off of the tourists. Their soft, sensitive skin might become damaged from a wayward fin. Their mouths are damaged from propellers after repeatedly coming up to feed at other boats.
Essentially, hanging out with these guys has turned from an awe-inspiring activity to more of a sad example of how humans are continuing to destroy, disrupt and negatively affect the world around us. It is our fault if we partake in these activities. Yes, the companies supplying the opportunity as are also to blame, but don’t shirk off the weight of your dollars if you choose to participate in this activity unethically. It is us ‘voting’ with our tourist dollars that is the sole contribution to affect these animals.
Check out these articles on the sad effects of Oslob’s Whale Shark tourism:
- 5 Reasons Not to go to Oslob
- Should you….Just because you can?
- Why we chose not to swim with sharks in Cebu
Ultimately, we as humans do not know the long-term impact of this semi-domestication of whale sharks. We don’t know how we are affecting their populations. We don’t know what this could mean for the whale sharks’ future.
How can we protect the whale sharks? Don’t support these companies.
Here’s a photos showing the sheer amounts of tourists viewing the whale sharks at once in Oslob:
Ways to Protect the Whale Sharks
DO NOT pay the companies that allow tourists to go dangerously close to the sharks. Although they might state that snorkelers aren’t allowed to approach more than 4 meters from the sharks, the boat-trains filled with snorkelers are themselves are within 2 meters. Don’t support these behaviors.
DO NOT feed the whale sharks
DO NOT touch the whale sharks
Stay more than 4 meters away at all times, (Especially behind them, where a fin might smack you)
Do your research before hand. Find an ethical company. Stay away from Oslob. Instead, check out Luzon!
Where to See the Whale Sharks Ethically
There are numerous ways to protect these majestic animals. The most effective way is to not fall victim to this tourist trap. There are actually larger groups of sharks located VERY close to Oslob, away from these predatory companies. You can support a true eco-tourist company, and not a disruptive one. You can support the growth of the community, ethically, by using your tourist “voting” dollars and paying these companies:
Companies on the Island of Luzon
I truly hope this helps you make a whole-hearted and loving decision to enjoy your vacation in the Philippines ethically, morally, and responsibly. There are other options to see the whale sharks other than Oslob. Vote with your money, and let’s work together to protect our environment and our fellow animals that live here, too!
Have you swam with whale sharks? Are there other islands in the Philippines that offer ethical whale shark experiences?