After seeing the amazing underwater photos of Apo Island from Two2Travel.com, my friends and I planned a trip to the land of the sea turtles before summer ended. But an earlier scheduled road trip to Apo Island prompted me to visit the island ahead of schedule. Since those sea turtles were soooo adorable, I decided to go back to Apo again, this time staying for a night on that remote island east of the Visayas region.
On my 2nd trip to the island, my companions wanted to include a detour at Oslob to visit whale sharks. It was not my first time to see those gentle giants. I’ve gone whale shark watching before so everything was not new to me.
Just before sunrise, we arrived at the small barrio of Tan-awan in Oslob and found our way to the shore where they briefed whale shark watchers on the the things to do and what nots.
sunrise at Oslob
As soon as we finished listening to their short briefing, we paddled our way into the whale shark feeding grounds. When we had all our gears ready, we jumped out of the boat and started swimming towards the whale sharks to observe their daily feeding.
a boatman preparing to go to the feeding ground
The boatmen said there were 17 whale sharks present that day. That was a huge number compared to the whale sharks that frequented the area the previous time I was there. Most of the whale sharks were still too young too and this was evident from their length.
As soon as we hit the waters, we immediately saw whale sharks approaching different boatmen who were facilitating the feeding. These boatmen throw meatball-sized planktons and soon, you’ll see the whale shark opening their mouth to catch their breakfast.
Sometimes, whale sharks swim together and approach the boatman who is in charge of the food distribution.
one of the baby whale sharks
Some of the whale sharks that I saw that morning looked bored and not hungry at all. Instead, they kept swimming beneath us snorkelers as if wanting to intimidate us with their size.
a smiling whale shark
With some of those whale sharks swimming towards us, I couldn’t help think that they wanted to play with me and my friends. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, one of them would flash a small as if teasing us to join them on their early morning swim.
swimming as if wanting to play
Instead of staying away from us, these gentle giants were more comfortable hanging around us while we tried to swim away every time they attempted to get near (touching whale sharks are forbidden, else you will be fined).
After 30 minutes of whale shark watching, we went back to our designated boat. When I saw that the resort where we left our things was just near, I asked permission from the boatman if I could just swim back to the shore. The boatman gave me permission and told me that they’ll paddle behind to secure my safety too. So thoughtful of them!
So while my friends climbed the boat’s ladder, I started snorkeling back to the shore. I think it took me 10 minutes to reach the shoreline after constantly switching between scissor and dolphin kicks. My friends’ boat arrived 5 minutes after. I went back to the shore to greet them and to get the rest of the stuff that I left inside the boat. Then without warning, my friends started telling me that I got chased by the biggest whale shark in the group!
That was my initial reaction. For a while, I thought that they were just teasing me but the seriousness in their tone said otherwise. They insisted that I got chased by one of the whale sharks!
Apparently, when I started paddling back to the shore, my fins were producing bubbles and that’s what caught the whale shark’s attention. The boatman forgot to tell me not to produce bubble and only blurted out the reminder when my ears were already submerged in the waters. Obviously, I didn’t hear the warning nor did I remember the briefing and just flapped harder to get to the shore faster.
I’m guessing that the whale shark got hypnotized by the bubbles coming from my fins because it didn’t stop chasing me even though it was already swimming on shallow waters. My friends said that all of the boatmen were dazed while looking at my direction. I think they froze for a second back there. They said I was just a few inches away from the whale shark that was chasing me. I, on the other hand, was oblivious of what’s happening. I never even had the slightest clue that a giant fish was following me. hehehe.
the whale shark swimming in shallow waters while chasing me
photo credit: Nethaneel Jao
Not minding the shallow waters, the whale shark kept following me. The rest of the boatmen got glued to their boats. It was a good thing that one of the boatmen went after the whale shark and started bribing it with food to call its attention. Once the whale shark got distracted with the food offering, the boatman brought it back to the feeding ground.
When I heard my friend’s stories of what just transpired, I got amused at the thought of the whale shark chasing me. I wasn’t worried for my safety since I know the those gentle giants won’t harm me. I was more worried if that fellow got hurt after his shallow swim but It would have been wonderful if I sensed its presence and turned around to face it and said Hi!
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The locals in Barangay Tan-awan in Oslob found a way to monetize the whale sharks passing by the area. Selected boatmen are assigned to feed whale sharks with krill and planktons on a daily basis. The whale shark feeding has become sensational. It increased the tourism in the town of Oslob but a lot have expressed their strong disapproval for this unnatural process but the local government unit in the area refused to stop the operations. A lot of factors needs to be considered and the local government, together with researchers from different marine conservation groups have promised to ensure the safety of the whale sharks till they find a workable solution that will not endanger the lives of the whale sharks should they be left in the wild to wander again. I just hope that do whatever they need to do to make sure that the balance of nature is not altered despite humans interference with the whale shark’s natural way of hunting for food.