Please Don’t Swim with the Whale Sharks in Cebu
A few years back, with a beer in hand; sand on feet–I had spent a perfect day down south of Cebu swimming at the beach with what I never thought I’d see in real life myself–whale sharks. It was never on my bucket list because I didn’t know about them until then but it sure made it to the top five of my list and immediately crossed it out!
It became a little secret of mine and my diver friends, but not long after, I came back again to find hordes of tourists flocking the area. A new form of tourism was born. At least ten boats would circle around one or two whale sharks, feeding them with krill they bought from the market to bribe them to stay so tourists can come see them.
Locals pay Php 500 while foreigners pay Php 1000 each in order to swim with the whale sharks. They go through an orientation, which may prove useless as they don’t make sure people are listening anyway, and are then transported via local fishing boats only a couple hundred meters from the shore. There, these boats will circle around one or two whale sharks while feeding them and the tourists can jump in and swim close to them. Many times touching them, too.
Why do we condemn this activity? First of all, you are disturbing their natural way of eating by feeding them. Every time they see boats, instead of avoiding them they approach them, causing injuries when they hit the boats. The wounds and scars are painfully obvious on their faces, too. It’s very sad to see. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the number of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) has more than halved over the last 75 years, with one of the causes of deaths being collision with boats.
Second, apart from injuries the method of feeding causes, there’s questionable safety and nutrients in the krill they feed. They could be contaminated because these things are transported to the market and then back at sea. Because of the rise of the number of tourists who visit, they have to constantly feed them longer to accommodate the people. The supply in Oslob could run out so they import some of the krill from neighboring places. That means more exposure to possible contamination through transportation.
Third, you’re changing their migration patterns so now they just stick around because they know there’s food all the time. Large Marine Vertebrates Project Philippines (LAMAVE) conducted scientific research in 2010 with different government and private agencies, containing potential impacts in the future with the current tourist activities in Oslob.
You can find even numerous articles online that speak against the activity going on in Oslob, Cebu like this dive shop in Bohol. There are also a few others who seem to be alright with it, especially those who benefit from it and the ones who don’t care for possible effects of the activities, especially thinking of long term environmental effects.
Social and environmental awareness is very important especially for us travelers. When it comes to issues regarding tourism we’re the ones who can make a big impact on unethical tourism practices. Remember, when there is no demand, there is no supply. And we can also make a difference by spreading the word and sharing our plight with other travelers like ourselves. Change will always begin with you!
Still want to see these majestic creatures? YOU CAN! Travel to Donsol, Sorsogon and see them in the wild.
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