Whale sharks are friendly giants. They are the size of a bus and are harmless. However, the first jump into the water is terrifying. You know in the back of your mind that these beasts won’t hurt you and actually can’t be bothered by you, but there’s a little voice that makes you want to scream, “SHARRRRRK!”
Our hotel, Costabella, on Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines helped arrange the entire excursion. We started our morning at 1:45am with a gentle wake up call from reception. That’s early for any functioning human and it was especially early for the queens of sleep. We LOVE our beauty sleep! Our hotel packed a breakfast bag for us and we were on our way to Oslob.
We wanted to be one of the first groups to swim with the whale sharks because they only feed until 12pm-ish (“operating hours” are from 6am to 12pm). We didn’t want to risk getting there to maybe see 1 or 2 sharks.
When we arrived in Oslob (5:30am), we did all of our tickets, instructions, and camera rental through AJ’s Place. They helped us fill out the paperwork, took us to the briefing center, made sure we were on a boat together, and provided an awesome underwater camera.
Note: I chose to pay for a rental camera instead of use my GoPro because the battery didn’t charge enough and I wanted to be sure my mom and I would be in pictures together. Also, the boatmen take your pictures for you (with your own camera or a rental).
By 6am we were on a small boat paddling out to the drop off. The water is unbelievably clear and warm! I guess it’s all relative with the temperature but you didn’t jump in and go “ooooo it’s cold!” (Maybe the adrenaline warmed me up).
The second my mom and I saw a whale shark, we were ready to take the plunge.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
Logistically, it’s a very controlled environment.
- Everyone goes through a briefing meeting before getting in the boats. You learn rules for engaging with the sharks.
- Keep your distance and don’t touch the whale sharks. There needs to be a 4 meter radius from them and if one is swimming towards you or close to you, move out of the way (common sense). If you touch the whale sharks, you can be charged a hefty fine and/or spend time in prison. Luckily we didn’t witness anyone touch the sharks so I’m not sure how strict they are with the punishment.
- You aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen or oils. They encourage you to rinse off beforehand.
- There is a time limit. When you are “anchored” with other boats, you have 30 minutes to swim with the whale sharks. It doesn’t sound like enough time, but it is. It’s plenty. You’ll begin to tire from the constant swimming up to, around, and away from the whale sharks.
- As your group heads back to the beach, another one is making their way out to the sharks. They only allow so many people to swim at once.
You will be swimming with at least 50+ other people and that can sometimes be frustrating. Everyone is trying to get their perfect shot with the whale sharks and at times it became overwhelming for the whale sharks (and other swimmers). You could tell when the sharks were over it because they would swim deeper for a while and eventually come back up for more food.
Overall, this was an unbelievable experience. Being that close to an enormous marine animal is something you watch during Shark Week! I never thought I would come that close to a “SHARRRRRK!”