Swimming with the whale sharks is one of the most exciting activities when travelling to the Philippines. A large whale shark can measure up to 12 meters in length so being close to a marine creature of such size is definitely once in a lifetime experience. No wonder so many travelers, both local and foreign, include swimming with the whale sharks as part of their bucket list.
While it’s undoubtedly a good experience, there are some controversies surrounding the activity. Some whale shark tourism in the Philippines clearly demonstrates animal exploitation. These gentle giants endure being exposed to humans all day everyday, with these people hovering around them to take a selfie or feed and touch them which experts believe could affect the animal’s behavior, health, and migratory patterns. Indeed, they provide the villagers the means to earn a living but sadly, none, or very small amount of money from the tours is used for whale shark conservation activities and projects.
If you are planning your trip to the Philippines and this activity is in your itinerary, be responsible enough by choosing tours that promote ethical tourism. Here are some tips on the ethical way to swim with the whale sharks.
Before the Encounter
Hundreds of tourists flock to Oslob for almost a 100% chance of seeing the whale sharks. While the whale sharks don’t seem to mind at all, it is actually discouraged due to space being constricted. It would also be hard to track what’s going on or if the tourists abide by the rules. Choose a location where the number of tourists are controlled. Even if it means going an extra mile or it is less convenient, so long as you are supporting something ethical. Additionally, you won’t have to deal with the crowd or squeeze past people to get a good view of the whale sharks.
Among the few whale sharks tourism in the country, the one in Southern Leyte is the ideal spot where you can swim with the whale sharks ethically. The best time to go is between November to May.
During the Encounter
When out in the water, here are some things you have to remember:
- Avoid chasing the whale shark.
- Do not touch or ride the whale shark. Keep a distance of at least three meters away from one.
- Swim slowly around the whale shark. Be careful so as not to accidentally touch or injure them.
- Do not interfere with the shark’s movements or block its path.
- Avoid feeding them.
- Do not use flash photography.
- Avoid making so much noise when getting into the water and that includes the use of motorized diver propulsion vehicles.
After the Encounter
Do you think your role is done after the encounter? Why not do more for these lovely creatures? Research more about the whale sharks and see what you can do to help protect them and prevent their extinction. You can support campaigns, projects, and legislations that promote their welfare. Use your social media influence to spread awareness to family, friends, and all your followers.
If we all do something, no matter how small, it will surely create a ripple that will hopefully ensure that this endangered marine life will not become extinct in the near future.