How to swim with Whale sharks in the Philippines

Many people will tell you that Oslob is the place to go if you want to be guaranteed a swim with Whale Sharks. They are right, but there is an environmental impact which we didn’t feel comfortable with.

It is well documented that they feed the Whale Sharks at Oslob. This encourages them to stay in the area all year long, ignoring their normal migratory paths. This in turn affects their mating patterns and could eventually lead to no more baby whale sharks. In short, if you actually care about the survival of this species, don’t go to Oslob.

Happily there is another option. In Donsol you can swim with Whale sharks throughout their migratory season of November to April/May. They aren’t fed. There are rules about how many boats can go out & how many can surround a whale shark at any time. There are still people who don’t think this is an ethical way of seeing them, so do your own research. The main concerns seem to be how many boats are in the water and how close to the Whale Sharks people get. All we can say is that they stuck to the rules rigidly on both times we ventured out.

You aren’t guaranteed to see them. In fact on our first attempt the only thing we saw was a shadow below us – which could have been anything. But on our second attempt we saw 5 up pretty close.

How to maximise your chances of seeing them.

  • Get yourself 6 people. You are going to end up in a boat for 6 & they don’t tend to leave until there are 6 of you, so get it all sorted beforehand. We didn’t on our 1st try & ended up being the last boat out.
  • Go in the morning session not the afternoon. You have a much better chance of seeing them then.
  • Go & register the day before. This saves you time in the morning. We spent 20 minutes just waiting for a form on our 1st We were done with all our admin within 5 minutes on our 2nd attempt.
  • Get there early – doors open at 7.30am. Get there are 7:15. Be the 1st in the queue.

Why all this emphasis on being first?

You want to be on one of the 1st boats out & this will help you achieve that. They put their best spotters on the boats going out early. This is how they get so many sightings. On our 1st try we had a terrible spotter who just looked for people jumping into the water. We were always last to a sighting. Because there is a limit to how many people can be in the water at any one time we always missed it. Conversely, on our 2nd attempt our spotter was awesome. We saw 2 Whale Sharks before any other boats had even left the harbour.

However you get there, where ever you stay, it will be totally worth it.  

Costs:

The boat costs 3500 pesos, which is about £60. This should be split between 6 of you. The Administration fee (also covers Environment Fee) is 300 pesos / £5 each – this covers you if you choose to go out again a second or third time. Snorkel gear hire is around 300 pesos/ £5 each. You will need fins as the Whale Sharks are really fast! There are life jackets on the boats if you need them.

Where to stay

The Woodland Beach Resort is less than a 5 minute walk from the Whale interaction centre. It has comfortable rooms & dorms. There is also a pool, and a bar. They serve fairly decent food at a reasonable price. You can book at www.agoda.com

How to get to Donsol

The nearest airport is Legaspi. You can then take a bus or taxi to Donsol. There is a Jeepney which goes once a day though we did not take this option. Buses stop before the last flight arrives. A taxi should cost no more than 1500 pesos & takes approximately 90 minutes. There is also an overnight bus from Manila though we did not take it. However It is by far the cheapest option if you have the time.

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