For many people, swimming with a whale shark is the ultimate underwater experience. If you’re coming to the Philippines then swimming with whale sharks is a must. It’s a thrill of a lifetime.
Whale sharks are they world’s largest fish, but they’re not even close to dangerous. They can grow up to 4-12 meters in length and weight up to 23 tons. They have enormous five foot wide mouths with no teeth.
There are a number of places you can snorkel with whale sharks in the Philippines and two of the popular destinations are in Donsol and Oslob.
I went to both, actually. Both experience were different, yet beyond extraordinary!
Usually, February to June would be the ideal months to visit Donsol, especially if you wanted to swim with the whale sharks. “In Donsol during peak season, it is very, very rare not to see whale sharks. ” quoted by Shark Diving Philippines. Hence the reason why I decided to visit Donsol before Oslob.
The Night Before
From there, I started writing to one of them. This one was from Russia, and he was traveling with a buddy. We talked mostly about why we travel and many other things, mostly related to traveling.
Then one thing led to another, and an American traveler approached us telling me she knew a little signing because she had a Deaf friend back in America. She joined us for the rest of night and we all hit it off together, so we headed out to the downtown area where we could live up the nightlife.
At one of the bars, the bartender, also the owner, enjoyed our company so much that he gave us free shots of whiskey all night to the point where we all almost got wasted, but we made it back to the resort safely.
This night is definitely one of most memorable one for me. Unforgettable.
The Adventure Unfolds
I woke up at 6:30am all groggy. I was still having the leftovers buzz from last night, but it was tolerable and it wasn’t enough to make me miss out swimming with the whale shark. Like, duh!
I arrived at the Bicol Diver Center at around 7am. The employees there handed me the paperwork that I had to fill out and sign. When I was done, a mandatory orientation was conducted to the passengers on how to properly interact with the whale sharks. I was placed in a group of 6 people and watched an instructional video.
While I watched the video, I learned that there were several safety regulations that we must follow. Otherwise, we could get fined or thrown in jail. It’s not just for your safety, it’s also for the safety of the whale sharks.
The safety regulations are the following:
- Do not touch, ride or restrict the movement of the shark.
- Swimmers should be 3 meters from the head and body; 4 meters from the tail
- Maximum of 10-minute swim with one whale shark
- Flash photography is not allowed
- No SCUBA, scooters or any motorized underwater propulsion
- Maximum of 6 swimmers per whale shark
- Only one boat per whale shark
- Maximum of 30 boats at sea
You have no idea how much they stressed on how strict they are with the first rule that prohibits you from touching. They are serious about it. So, keep that in mind.
At the end of the video, we all got kitted up with masks and fins ready to go and find some whale sharks.
While in the boat that would take us to the whale shark area, I was thrilled but anxious as well.
There were two operators from the dive center on the board. One was a spotter, another was a guide.
The spotter is obviously the one who stands on the boat beam to look for big dark shadows in the waters. The guide is the one who will tell you to dive into the water to swim alongside with a whale shark when spotted. Not only that, the guide is basically the one who is responsible for everyone’s safety
Besides, the whale sharks tend to descend to the deeper part of the water if boats and people were out. That made it hard for us to actually see them close-up. Especially the water was kind of dark and gloomy for us to clearly see the whale sharks.
When a whale shark was spotted, the guide would sail in the same direction the whale shark was heading to beat them to to the edge of the sea. That way we would jump in the water before the whale shark reaches us. And then we would swim alongside these gentle giants.
Before I saw my first one, the guide was lecturing to the passengers about how to behave near the whale shark while swimming with them. The guide was so communicative that he would make time to explain me what he told the others in his lecture through gestures. He gestured different actions of what was allowed and what was not. I understood clearly.
As we prepared for our first one, we huddle up and sat on the edge of the boat with our snorkel masks and fins on. We all eyeballed the guide for the signal.
Before I knew it, the guide was waving his hands in the air to give us the go. We all jumped and scrambled into each other in the water at the same time.
I was quick to swim underwater and watched the whale shark heading in our directions, but it was too fast for me to keep up or get a good picture.
I’m serious here. Seriously not kidding, the whale shark was monstrously big to me. I had heard and known that they were big, but it was hard to imagine just how big until they were right there in front of you.
Evidently, the whale shark passed us, so I climbed back on the boat for another round. The others followed as well.
After spotting another one, the boat headed out for the next round, but another boat raced and took up the spot. Ugh. Hate when that happens.
That happened to us couple of times, but that didn’t stop us from having few more rounds though. Even sometimes 10 boats would head to the same spot for the same whale shark.
Pretty much, we all were constantly on the edge of the board, ready to dive in.
For the second time, I still couldn’t get a great picture.
In that moment, I was so determined to get a great picture of the whale shark. I started studying on how the whale sharks would swim in circles, from edge to edge. So, I watched where the whale shark would go when people approach it.
Often, the whale sharks would descend much deeper in the water as soon as people jumps into the water and approach it. From there, I used that as my advantage and I decided to stay in one spot when all of people were swarming and keeping up with the whale shark as it roamed underwater.
While I was staying and floating in my spot, the guide tried to signal me and tell me to keep up with the group. I was stubborn and I stayed in the same spot. Sure enough, I was right and the whale shark actually headed back to where I was floating. The whale shark began to surface when the people couldn’t keep up with it, that was when I went down under and swam to it.
When I was down under, I used the breathing method I learned in scuba diving and it was helpful for me to stay underwater longer than I usually could. I watched the whale shark swimming right into my direction. I was so into my GoPro camera while it was heading for me.
All of a sudden, its five-foot wide mouth was right in my face and I quickly moved out of its way before it could hit or eat me. Like they will though… =P
I ended up not getting a great picture on this one though.
As soon as I could see its dark blue skin with light yellow spots by my side while I swam alongside it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was extraordinarily magnificent. I couldn’t describe the feeling as it was very powerful. The feeling was like an out-of-body experience.
It’s amazing how fast that whale shark swam. Every video I had seen showed the whale shark in slow motion, but this one is speedy.
As it passed by, I got back on the boat for another round.
Spot a whale shark.
Back on boat.
Like a routine, we went in rounds for 3 hours
After all this was done, you would have no idea how exhausted I was. Keeping up with the whale shark took more energy that you think. I was panting like a dog when I was riding back to the dive center.
Overall, the experience was beyond amazing, but I was disappointed that I didn’t have underwater filter for this one as all the pictures came out dark and the whale sharks were hard to see.
Whale Shark Watching in Oslob
I’m not going to go into details on this part. I just wanted to share with you few things about Oslob to help you decide which one to take.
Besides, the whale shark watching was not sponsored and I paid for this one. Here are the fees:
- Whale shark watching from a boat: 500 PHP (~$12 US Dollars)
- Snorkeling with whale sharks: 1,000 PHP (~$22 US Dollars)
I went with Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fishermen’s Association for the whale shark watching. Unfortunately, they do not have their own official website.
The whale shark watching only lasted 30 minutes.
Besides, the whale sharks in Donsol are much bigger than the ones in Oslob.
I know being able to interact with them for 3 hours in Donsol would beat this big time, but their 30 minutes does come with few pros:
- The whale sharks would roam much SLOWER here and they would surface often because the water is shallow and they eat the shrimps and planktons that the fishermen feeds them. Which means you wouldn’t have to swim as hard as you have to in Donsol. The whale sharks in Donsol are FAST and they will go deep in the water if they are frighten. If you’re an amateur in swimming, you wouldn’t be able to keep up as much.
- The water there were CRYSTAL CLEAR. I could see the bottom of the sea whereas I couldn’t in Donsol. You wouldn’t need any underwater filter for this one. You would be able to get better pictures of the whale shark, or even better selfies because the water was beyond clear.
Pretty much you have a choice here:
- If you want quality time to truly interact with the whale sharks, Donsol is the way to go.
- If you want amazing pictures, I’d recommend you to go to Oslob.
The choice is yours, but my experiences at both sites have been incredible though.
Bicol Dive Center
- Address: Bororan Barangay 1 Pob., Donsol, Philippines
- Phone Number: +63 906 801 6852 (mobile) / +63 917 900 2464 (mobile)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.bicoldivecenter.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bicol-Dive-Center-Donsol/137397873028127
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Bicol Dive Center. I received a free whale shark interaction in Donsol in exchange of this blog review. All opinions are my own.