This was our penultimate day and our "dry" day to allow our dive computer "no fly "times to reduce. This would enable us to start our journey back home the following day with our computers showing zero "No fly" time, even though the group would quite happily have stayed here for an extended period.
We started with a very early breakfast so that we could be on the road by just after 5am for the drive up to the port at Sibulan. Here we could catch the ferry across to Cebu island and then carry on our road trip along the coast to Barangay for the Whale Shark watching. We had the briefing for this tour the previous evening and had been told about distances required to stay from head and tail where possible, do not intentionally touch the Whalesharks but if they touch you its ok, no flash photography, no video lights, watch out for the canoes, keep clear of the feeders boats etc etc.
Once we arrived at Barangay we changed into our swimwear, gathered our snokelling gear and boarded our banka armed with our cameras ready to move off to the area. We were all offered snorkelling vests on the boat, if we wanted to use them was down to personal choice, but as wearing a wetsuit that provides a level of buoyancy no snorkelling vest required.
Now I have to admit that this is probably the hardest blog I have had to write as I have personal issues here due to my own beliefs and values. But I also felt that I needed to experience first hand how this whaleshark experience is run to give a fair and objective opinion.
Our Banka moored up in an upwind position outside the roped off area that could easily deliver us to the viewing area once we entered the water. Our brief was to enter the water by giant stride and then swim towards the rope marking the outer edge of the viewing area to regroup, so we hit the water and swam the 100m to the rope and regrouped.
First impression was that the area was busy with the small philippine canoes of the feeders moving around the area being closely followed by juvenile whalesharks eagerly sucking up the offerings that were being scattered into the water. Also in the area were larger philippine canoes paddled by two men loaded with tourists mainly Chinese wearing floatation devices and no fins. These were doing shuttle runs from the beach to the area and once over where the whalesharks were feeding proceeded to dump these guys over the side screaming and kicking wildly as most apparently couldnt even swim, before hauling them back onto the boats and ferrying them back to the beach to reload with another group and do it all again.
Art told us all to move into the area so we swam over the rope and entered the viewing area but always being vigilant of not only what was below us but also what was above us. Almost immediately a 6 metre plus whaleshark swam deep below me and I was able to get a great top down shot as it swam by, then my spidercrab sense tingled and I looked up just in time to be able to swim out of the way of one of the larger canoe outriggers that was on collision course with my head to shouts of "Mister Mister" coming from the guys paddling the boat! Do they not realise that ears immersed in water do not hear sound very well from the surface let alone from above the surface plus 2 guys with oars should be able to steer a canoe around a group of objects in bright orange flotation vests well before a point of collision not just paddle straight through the middle.
The next 45 minutes were a mixture of wonder at the amazingly beautiful whalesharks with some stunning up close experiences, multiple times trying to keep the required distances of 3m from the head and 4m from the tail when surrounded by three or more feeding whalesharks is impossible when you just have nowhere to go so I just floated in the water watching them with my fins up clear so as not to hurt them and they just pushed me out of the way gently as they passed by, magical.
But then the other side was the carnage above the water line with the constant flow of canoes from the beach ferrying people to and from the viewing area, injuries were apparent to some of these tourists from the boats but luckily not to anyone from our group or the whalesharks. I can only describe this above water part as being like watching a film and waiting for a car crash you know is going to happen.
I know that Atlantis Dive resorts have no control over anything that happens here at Oslob and that the complete experience is outside of their control hence the disclaimer forms we all had to sign prior to participation. I can also understand the importance of tourism and the revenue that this brings to the local people and the local area but at what expense to these juvenile whalesharks? There was evidence of damage to the tail of one where the top of the tail had been severed possibly by a propellor, now is this attributable to the fact that the juvenile whalesharks have learnt to associate boats with food and got too close or is there another reason for this I don't know.
What I do know is that there is and has to be a better and more environmentally friendly alternative to this car crash carnage.
Yes this is just my opinion and not that of Dive Rutland or anyone else but basically what we have here is an aquarium that uses food instead of glass!
Dive Rutland is the trading name for Dive Rutland Limited, a company registered in England and Wales with company number 9433835.
Registered address: 8 Horn Close, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6FE