About the Butanding
Whale shark or “Butanding” in the local language is the largest known fish in the world. It can be as long as 40 feet which is about the size of a bus. It is referred to as gentle giants because even it has a large mouth with plenty of teeth, its diet is limited to krill, plankton, and tiny microorganisms, hence pose no risk to humans. The whale sharks are huge but gentle, ergo called the gentle giants of the sea. They’re friendly but advised in Oslob to not touch them nor feed them for their protection.
Whaleshark watching history in Oslob
The huge fish is driving tourists to Oslob that it has become a popular activity when visiting Cebu. Whaleshark watching started in September 2011 and has instantly become popular all over the world, when the news about it hit on the internet in November 2011. By December 2011, local fishermen started interacting with the whale sharks that resulted in the influx of tourists on the beach of Tan-awan. This activity is a government-run and the local fishermen ferry the guests and feed the sharks.
At present, there are no cages or nets to keep the whale shark to stay. They are conditioned to gather around just meters from the shore every morning. They stay and return automatically to be fed with the smelly ‘alamang’ or krills. As the fishermen feed the sharks, they gently swim around the visitors. In the afternoon, they leave the area to forage and due to low tide, they swim further away. By noontime, the fishermen stop taking people out around.
A mandatory briefing is conducted to provide guidelines for the tourists. They will go over the rules like a five-meter radius distance from the shark must be adhered to, and putting on sunblock is prohibited if you are swimming with the whale shark.
After the orientation, verification shall follow next. Since you will be registered in a numbering system, you will aboard the boat per batch. You’ll be given a number, which acts like your batch number to get on board. Once you have your number, you can go to the waiting area or any place you are comfortable to stay until your number is called.
Operators will kit you up with snorkeling gear, like goggles and life vests once your number has been called. You will also be asked to leave your things onshore because it will just get wet. The only gadget that is allowed is your camera with the capability to be used underwater.
In the canoe, there will be ten people in your batch. The boatman will paddle out to join over a dozen more canoes as soon as everybody has boarded. A number of boats go out at once. Expect that during the ride, you’ll see and smell the stench of decaying krill mush.
When you get to the encounter point with the whale shark, you can do the activity you paid for. If you chose whale shark viewing, you will just sit on the thwart and watch the ‘butanding’ swimming from the surface of the water from the boat. If you opted swimming with the whale sharks, you can jump into the water to have a closer view. While looking at the gentle giants underwater, you can hang on to the outrigger. A ladder is also attached to the boat when you want to climb back up. After 30 minutes you will be ferried back to the beach and return the snorkeling gear onshore
Concerns about the butanding and responsible tourism
Some are protesting against this tourism activity due to the harm that tourists could potentially cause to the whale sharks as well as altering the natural activity of the butanding. The concerns include the following:
1. Daily human feeding creates a dependency that might completely destroy the sharks’ability to find food in the wild. Consequently, when sharks no longer leave Oslob and won’t migrate, they won’t reproduce. This is not a healthy cycle for whales.
2. The treatment on sharks must be improved. There are hundreds of tourists in a day and some are not following the rules. Several people swim too close to the gentle giants, attempting to touch and chase the sharks. Also, there are times when tourists bump and kick the sharks while swimming albeit unintentionally.
3. To maintain courtesy, boatmen do modest warning to unabiding tourists. Strict implementation to protect the whale shark must be enforced.
Come to Oslob if you want to be astonished and swim with the world’s most amazing fish.
As for me, I don’t have pictures during the whale shark watching since I don’t have a waterproof mobile cover. I just enjoyed watching from the boat and lived at the moment. Before going here, make sure you have the cover if you want to snap some souvenir photos. Worry not if you were not able to bring as there are vendors selling it at the entrance.
Good To Know
Buying Ticket: Just like with other activities, you need a ticket to get closer to the sharks. The easiest way is to book through your travel agency. If you have a local tour guide, you won’t have to queue for registration. The local guide will register for you and all you have to do is just wait.
Payment: If you avail of a travel agency service your tour is already pre-arranged. If you opted DIY, then you would have to queue. The amount you will pay is determined by the activity you will pay. You may choose whale shark watching or swimming with the gentle giants. Also, it is important to note that fees are different for locals and foreigners.
Trip from Cebu City to Tan-awan Olslob: If you are coming from Cebu City, it would take you around three to four hours of car ride to Oslob. Since this activity is only conducted half-day, the place gets crowded during the morning. The first boat goes out at 6 am and the last boat at 11 am. Hence, the earlier you arrive, the shorter you’ll have to wait to get out to the sharks. Even as early as 5:15 am there are tourists and tour guides who are already waiting. Also, there are few touts in the area.
Happy Travels! 💛
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