Sunday, June 30, 2013

Whale Sharks, the Big Friendly Giants

I was always told that seeing a whale shark in the water with you will leave you awe struck and speechless. If you know me in real life, then you know that there are very few times that I am speechless, much to hubs disappointment (especially when he's trying to sleep). 
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
We made great time on our road trip and arrived in Oslob by around 9:30. As soon as you reach the small town, you're bombarded with signs leading to businesses that will take you out to see the whale sharks. I admit that it was a huge tourist trap but sometimes you just have to suck it up, put on your 'I love Cebu' T-shirt and fanny pack and join the other tourists in order to see one of the most amazing things I have ever laid my eyes on.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
We first had to sit through a five minute safety and informational speech. They explained to us that each day they send boats out that throw small fish into the water to attract the whale sharks. This is yes, for the purpose of tourism, but also so scientists in the area can come tag them, study their behavior and hopefully use this information to protect them in the future. Around 12 o'clock, the feeding stops so the whale sharks will go back into the wilderness and hunt on their own, therefore discouraging dependency on the program.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
They also explained (with diagrams I might add) that we must at all times stay at least four meters away from the whale sharks. If we did not adhere to this law we were warned that we could either be fined (about $50) or sent to jail for a few weeks. No problem we thought. Don't it. We had no idea just how difficult that would be until we got in the water with them. We headed away from the information tent and towards the water. As soon as we stepped foot on the beach, we could see fins stretching out of the water and towards the sky, along with massive shadows lurking beneath the surface. 
Technically a shark but getting the name because it's as big as some whales; these giants can get up to almost 12 meters (41.5 ft) long and can weigh more than 47,000 tons. Their mouth alone can reach up to 5 feet in length! But don't worry, they're filter feeders, eating only small fish, plankton and krill. The largest we saw that day was over 9 meters (29.5 feet) long.
whale shark, oslob philippines
We hopped in one of the small narrow boats that littered the water front, filled with people anxious for a glimpse of the infamous giants. We prepped inside the boat and donned our mask and fins as quickly as we could so we wouldn't waste a minute of our allotted 35 minutes in the water. Once we ducked under the water we knew what people meant when they said we would be in awe. We did not see just one whale shark, but nine gliding through the crystal clear waters, taking turns it seemed, to surface and gulp down the tiny fish the boats were pouring into the waters. 
As I was hanging onto the boat, readjusting my goggles, my feet dangling in the water, I felt a sudden jolt under my feet. Shocked and curious, I put my head down in the water and saw one of the massive beings swimming just inches under me. It had quite literally ran into me. See what I mean about it being difficult to stay far away? Panicked, I looked up to my tour guide to see if he had caught what had just happened. He let out a small chuckle and told me not to worry, it happened all the time. All they want is food and many times they pay no attention to the dozens of swimmers in the water around them. There were even times when I looked over at hubs and had to hurriedly motion for him to move out of the way because one of the whale sharks, mouth wide open, was just inches behind him, heading his way.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
whale sharks oslob philippines
After spending every last moment we could in the water, we headed back for shore, not being able to wipe the childish grins off of our faces. On the way back home, the rain caught up with us as we rode the last hour in the pouring rain. Soaked to the bone as we arrived back at our hotel, smiles still plastered on our faces, the staff questioned us about how it went. It was the perfect ending to the perfect weekend getaway.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
Have you ever or would you ever swim freely with this mammoth of a fish?

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