Scuba diving with Whale Sharks at Oslob in the Philippines. It's a much discussed theme among divers as they feed the Whale Sharks to lure them and keep them near the coast so tourists can dive or go snorkeling with these majestic gentle giants. Oslob has a bad reputation in the scuba world as in the past they abused the Whale Sharks so they couldn't swim away. After reassurance by the Dutch dive resort owners where I was staying I decided to take a visit to Oslob and take a look with my own eyes if the situation had really improved.
"The story being told is that the whole Whale Shark feeding situation started with a small group of fisherman. The Whale Sharks crowded the waters where they where fishing which scared fish away and the fisherman had to struggle to survive. A fisherman had the bright idea of luring the Whale Sharks away from the fishing ground by throwing small shrimps in the water behind his boat. One day a tourist saw the fisherman with the Whale Sharks and asked if he could swim with them and paid the fisherman. The story went around and soon the Oslob reputation was born."
At first I didn't want anything to with Oslob. On my travels I always try to avoid these tourist traps in which animals are being exploited for commercial gain. However in a discussion with the owners of Magic Island Dive Resort they convinced me that Oslob was a changed place. The owners themselves are very strict on being an eco friendly resort. For example they created all along the MoalBoal coastline anchor points for scuba boats so they don't damage the coral. They convinced me to go and take a look around.
The scuba diving and snorkeling where heavily regulated at Oslob. You can only enter the water between 08.30 am till 12.30 pm and under supervision of a certified dive guide or a ranger while snorkeling. You can have an one hour dive or 30 minutes of snorkeling. The rangers are all around to keep a check on all the tourists and actively make sure you don't touch the Whale Sharks. They also told me that the amount that the young Whale Sharks are being fed is a drop on what they have to consume on a daily basis and that they usually only stay for a short period of time before migrating further along the coast.
Dive resorts and tourist agencies are responsible for the group of people they bring along on the excursion. They have to impart the rules and in case of the divers als make sure they keep to the rules. In the case of misbehaviour the dive resort or tourist agency will get a fine. After three fines you're placed on a black list and not allowed to organise any further excursions to Oslob.
Is it perfect?! No... During my stay I saw several things go wrong. During our dive I saw a scuba diver collide with a young Whale Shark and while snorkeling I found there where to many tourists at once in the water. The situation has definitely improved since the beginning of Oslob and I believe that we can have a further impact in creating a better and more eco friendly environment in which we can meet these beautiful animals. Some may say we should stop all Oslob tourist traps all over the world and they may be right. However that is a dream which will never happen. To many tourist just don't care. So let's make the best of a wrong situation. Oslob is dependent on the tourist income and will accomodate tourist wishes to prevent that tourist will stay away. This means we do have an impact and we do have a chance to further improve the situation in Oslob.