A Call for Responsible Tourism: Whale Shark Interaction in Oslob, Cebu

A Whale Shark in Oslob being fed with shrimps, in order for them to stay in the same area during the “interaction” time

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This is a post about A Call for Responsible Tourism: Whale Shark Interaction in Oslob, Cebu.

Reasons why you should not go to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks.

The world of tourism. The life of travel. And all things in between.

For the tourism service provider,

It’s a good source of income especially during high season, and one can do so much when money starts coming in especially in poor areas. For some, it’s just a means of livelihood while for others, it’s the only way of living, a food to the table.

For the receiver, the consumer,

At the same time, it entertains our sights with the beauty that this world has to offer. It gives us an experience of a lifetime. It makes us aware and it even educates us. It helps us grow. It changes us. It makes us feel grateful and fulfilled.

But, what about this world?

Its beauty? The sights? The selfless nature that we ever so loved to see? The intricate facade that tells you the history it had witnessed? What do they get from both sides of the fence?

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What about this side of the world of the whale sharks, which is currently caught in between the world of eco-tourism?

They can’t speak up and they supposedly just follow their routine, their normal wild life, and live in their natural habitat. But tourism in some parts of the world has changed that.

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Why I feel that you should NOT swim with the whale sharks in Oslob.

A few days ago, I caught myself talking with a fellow instagram user about the whale shark watching practices being done in Oslob. I haven’t been there and have’t experienced the whale shark watching there myself. I’ve only been to Donsol where I did the whale shark interaction last February which was SURREAL.

In Oslob, however, it’s not the same experience. It’s harmful for the whale sharks.

From what I’ve learned, guidelines and rules have been set in place to protect these gentle giants (read here). But it’s rather hard to control the hundreds of tourists swarming over, fighting hard to take the much anticipated photo of and with them. It’s even more difficult when the guidelines are not even being followed.

6802Batches of paddle boats with tourists are brought to the whale shark watching area in Oslob every 30 minutes

6803Paddle boats already in place at the whale shark interaction area

So, how does the whale shark interaction take place in Oslob?

A boat goes around the area to feed the whale sharks there from 6 am until noon so that they would stay at the feeding area. A form of domestication takes place for tourists to easily interact with them. Tourists are brought there and are given the opportunity to interact in 30 minutes. I imagined an “open zoo” when I learned about this.

6801Paddle boats and tourists at the whale shark interaction area in Oslob

Take note that whale sharks are wild animals, thus, feeding them and domestication is not away to live the normal wild life.

Is feeding bad for them? YES.

It ruins their diet and makes them unhealthy. They are supposed to move and fend for themselves naturally with nutritious plankton food along the way. Instead, they just “hang-out” and wait for the krill to come in the interaction area, whatever the boat feeds them. They don’t get the right amount of nutrition that they actually need.

Whale sharks are wild animals who should freely swim, eat, migrate and live obliviously from humans.

By feeding them, they have become more vulnerable due to the changes in their behavior.

They’ve learned to associate food with the presence of boats and people (as this is what happens in the whale shark interaction in Oslob).

Some whale sharks even arrive earlier that the start of the feeding time (before 6 am) to source for food in the interaction area. (source: LAMAVE)

The worse part is, if and when they leave, the whale sharks that have been accustomed to this practice in Oslob are prone to approach non-feeding boats and could get hurt in the process (by the propeller or even poached if they’ve mistakenly gone to the wrong one).

The behavior that they’ve acquired endangers them and make them more vulnerable once they leave Oslob. (read more here)

In some way, this makes them domesticated and causes disruption of their migration cycle.

Other whale sharks stay far longer in Oslob instead of migrating to other areas where they’re supposed to go. This also resulted to their domestication, changing their “wild nature” and their migration cycle.

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6804A whale shark in Oslob with its mouth open trying to eat the shrimps being fed to it

I know that a huge improvement has already taken place there, as they used to poach whale sharks back in the day. But for me, if a better form of interaction can be placed, just as how it is in Donsol, then it could also be done in Oslob and elsewhere, right?

It also bothers me why some still go there and even promote it even after learning about the conditions there. If you weren’t aware before and you did it, then the least you could do is learn further and make others aware.

You can read about “why not to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob” further here, here, here, and here.

You can also read about a study done by LAMAVE, an NGO that aims to conserve marine biodiversity on “What happens when you feed wildlife: the case of the whale sharks in Oslob, Philippines” here.

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But what about the Oslob local livelihood depending on it?

The income generated from this livelihood puts food into the table, I know that. And I am definitely not heartless to pray for this livelihood to be taken away from them. But in the long run, will this livelihood still go on if the current interaction practice remains the same?

To further expound, will the current practice be able to sustain the livelihood in the next few years ensuring that the whale sharks live longer through all of these?

If yes, for how long?

What will happen to the whale sharks in the next few years? Their life cycle? Their migration cycle? Their understanding of being “wild” and the way they adapt with the environment?

What if we change the interaction experience and improve it to benefit the local livelihood and the whale sharks’ marine life? Which is better?

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Changing ways, transitioning to a more sustainable, responsible, and ethical whale shark interaction practice.

Moving forward, I do understand how long and tedious this process is. Joint efforts need to be in place by the department of tourism, the marine-life experts from various organizations, and the local government to educate the locals of the effects of what’s currently happening and what’s bound to happen in the future of the marine life of the whale sharks. The pros and the cons. Perhaps, an in depth study, a comprehensive and long term plan that would benefit both the local tourism and the marine life needs to be provided as well in order for the locals to be more open with changing the usual ways of whale shark interaction.

And us, tourists, travelers, supporters should get the right information necessary. Awareness should not only be made to the locals but to guests as well. We should do our part.

A Call to Raise Awareness. Please. Educate us. Help us help you.

By all means, I am no expert. I am just a small girl trying to reach out to the proper institutions to inform us, educate us, and make everybody aware of the current situation in that part of tourism. It’s always easier said than done. And you’d probably say that it’s always the other people “who feel like they know it all” in spite of not really knowing the story behind, deep down. I acknowledge that I am one of them, so by all means, educate me, educate us. And if needed, seek help. Ask us and let us know where we could come in.

In my little way, I hope that those who come across this blog would try to further explain to me, to us, the efforts being done and the eventual plans for a more responsible and sustainable whale shark interaction in Oslob.

I have faith that things will improve eventually. But for now, let’s all make a stand and speak up in our own little way. And for the highly influential people out there, this is the time to extend your reach and help us too.

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A facebook petition is already up for this, but I don’t think they’re getting the right attention as of the moment. Department of Tourism also informed me that guidelines are in place, but they’re having difficulties as they need support from the local government. I am still unsure though of the process being done. There’s also an ongoing campaign by LAMAVE through research and education in Oslob.

Update as of May 24, 2016

Marine Wildlife Watch Philippines, a conservation organization is also currently working with DOT for the policies. And WWF-Philippines, who have promoted the sustainable practice in Donsol, are also currently having difficulties in penetrating the said practice in Oslob.

There is also an on going video campaign called Their Future Our Future that aims to raise awareness on the marine wildlife interaction guidelines in support of the support Sustainable Marine Wildlife Tourism in the Philippines

All of them can only do so much unless we all come together.

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To the Influential Travelers, Bloggers, Advocates, Private and Government Institutions: Please DON’T PROMOTE the whale shark watching in Oslob until the ethical practice has been implemented.

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Photos from Oslob courtesy of Kenjie Campat.

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