A few hours south of the province of Cebu is the small town of Oslob. The area’s geography is mountainous, but has beautiful coast lines (where most inhabitants live). The 30,000 locals in the [almost] poor town cater to thousands of daily visitors looking to get amazing selfies with the many non-captive whale sharks.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
There are a handful of places that have a whale shark experience, and offer packages for tourists. I would recommend against the packages as they are very overpriced (6,000 – 10,000 pesos). The walk-up cost is $1,000 pesos (roughly $21 USD) for 30-minutes in the water. The fee includes snorkel/mask and the canoe ride out to the sharks.
Yes, they are actually sharks. This species filter feeds by gently gliding through the water and poses no significant danger to humans.
Every morning dozens of locals set out to hunt for whale sharks; Not to kill or harm them, but to lure them close to shore so people can swim with them. In an almost ritualistic way, the locals guide the sharks from a canoe close to shore for the tourists to see. There are [typically] 3-5 whale sharks filter feeding while swimming very slowly in large circles. All of the sharks are focused on food and completely ignore humans and the other fish in the water.
The sharks are 100% free and not caged or restrained – something I really liked. The juvenile whale sharks are a measly 15-20′ (4-5 meters) and weigh as much as a fully loaded bus. Strangely, they appear to be completely happy with the daily ritual of swimming in circles while people snap selfies a few feet away.
The whale sharks were not aggressive AT ALL; they reminded me of a manatee, quiet, slow and keeping to their-self. Yes, it is a mind over matter battle for some people to get into the water with something that big but once in the water the fears subside quickly.