Why it’s a bad idea to swim with whale sharks in Cebu

Thinking of snorkeling with whale sharks in the Philippines? Think again. Source: Shutterstock.

FOR DIVERS and ocean lovers, the mere idea of swimming with a whale shark in clear blue waters can be exhilarating.

Imagine the huge sea animal slowly going you, just within an arm’s length. Your heart starts pounding; your breathing would probably escalate as both fear and joy flood your body.

Sounds like your kind of holiday? Well, there are a couple of places where this is possible.

One of it being Cebu island in the Philippines.

Located in the southern tip of Cebu island, Oslob is a small municipality that encompasses 21 villages, including Tan-awan.

Tan-awan is where the whale shark feeding activities happen, so much so that the area has been dubbed “Oslob Whale Shark Watching.”

The otherwise quiet fishing village and its residents are seeing a profit as tourists flock to the island for whale shark watching activities. Source: Shutterstock.

According to local tour agency Oslob Whale Sharks, whale shark watching started in September 2011 and became famous all over the world when the news hit the internet in November 2011.

Tourists flock to the beach of Tan-awan to not only watch them being fed, but also snorkel or dive with them from as low as PHP1,900 (US$37) per person.

Oslob Whale Sharks assures watching of whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu is 99 percent guaranteed.

Of course, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a dream come true for many, but its ethical issues have made it a bit of a controversial activity.

Are you thinking of someday swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines? Source: Shutterstock.

Whale sharks are the biggest sharks and also the biggest fish in the world

According to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, “The largest is the whale shark, which has been known to get as large as 18 meters (60 feet). The smallest fits in your hand. And the great white shark is somewhere in the middle.”

Despite their enormous mouths and thousands of teeth, whale sharks are gentle giants swim at the speed of about 5km per hour.

They are docile creatures that feed on tiny micro-organisms, so they’re completely harmless to human beings.

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature moved the whale shark from “vulnerable” status to “endangered”. Source: Shutterstock.

Why is it unethical?

Unlike whale sharks in the wild, the whale sharks in Cebu have been domesticated as the fisherman who lived in the village had started feeding them regularly.

The sharks are lured to the coast to be fed shrimps.

While it’s safe to be around these gentle giants, it isn’t necessarily good for them. Source: Shutterstock.

This disrupts their feeding patterns and they may never leave the shores.

And because they are spending up to six hours feeding by the beach, they lose out on the key nutrients they gain from foraging naturally.

They get too familiar

What happens when they no longer swim away from or avoid boats?

They get hurt.

What if they forget how to “whale shark”? Source: Shutterstock.

“Researchers have also reported that whale sharks now associate other non-tourist related boats with feeding, causing them to get injured when they come too close to motors and oars,” adventure travel and responsible tourism website dontforgettomove.com wrote.

As a result, whale sharks bump into the boats and have evidence of cuts and scarring.

It meddles with migration

Whale sharks are highly mobile animals, but if they’re not leaving the shores, a lot is at stake.

For example, it could alter their breeding habits and ultimately their reproduction.

Whale shakes are supposed to migrate annually for months at a time in large aggregations to feed in plankton-dense waters. Source: Shutterstock.

The official conservation status for whale sharks is “vulnerable and declining.”

So if they decide never to leave and not reproduce, then Cebu, we have a problem.

No touchy feely!

The whale shark is a protected species in the Philippines and Under Republic Act 9147 (for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and habitats).

Although strict rules and regulations have been put in place prohibiting visitors from interacting with the whale sharks, such as a 2-meter minimum distance, it hasn’t stopped them from making contact. For example, to get the “ultimate selfie” with one.

Is endangering whale sharks really worth the “epic selfie”? Source: Shutterstock.

“In 89% of the events, the contact is initiated by one of the feeders that touches the mouth of the shark or places his foot in between the shark and the hull of the boat. This is usually to prevent the shark from bumping the boat, and pushing into it whilst it is getting fed,” dive-bohol.com wrote.

“The feeders have also been observed to occasionally stroke the sharks and push them away in an attempt to discourage the shark from feeding because they want to conserve the food for the next group of guests / next day.

There’s no doubt that the otherwise quiet fishing village of Tan-awan and its residents are seeing a profit as tourists flock to the island for whale shark watching activities, but it may have lasting adverse effects.

Considering they’re a vulnerable species, any risks should be taken very seriously.