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The first time the boatman urged me to go below the surface, I resolutely plunged downwards and went as deep as I could go.

Unfortunately — apparently — this was as deep as I could go:

Just inches shy of the surface and my arms all awkwardly angled too. 😂

So I’ll probably never win awards for diving or synchronized swimming or just, you know, gracefulness

…and I never got to live that scenario in my head where I would just stay still underwater and serenely contemplate the majestic beings swimming around me.

For all that, those beings were no less majestic…

SGMT Philippines Cebu Oslob Whale Shark 05

…and the experience was no less unbelievable.

Whale sharks

…are the world’s biggest fish and they congregate in tropical waters rich in plankton. A significant number of them can be found off the coast of Oslob, a town in my home island of Cebu, in the Philippines. Since whale sharks are filter feeders, they hardly pose a threat to man; it’s man, instead, that pose a threat to them.

Everyone intending to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob undergo a quick orientation before being allowed on the boats. Rules are outlined. Swimmers must not put on sunblock. Flash photography is not allowed. Touching a whale shark is strictly forbidden; we are not even supposed to go within 4 feet of one.


Whale sharks going within 4 feet of humans is another matter altogether.

All right, all right, no need to bite my head off.


For more information about whale sharks

Check out this WWF primer.

And if you want to swim with whale sharks too, you can fly to Cebu, take a cab to the South Bus Terminal, and catch the bus going to Oslob. Better yet, if you have the time and resources, and you’re okay with the idea that a whale shark sighting is not guaranteed on your first go, head for Donsol (Sorsogon) instead, as their whale shark ecotourism practices are more ethical and sustainable than those of Oslob.




Swimming with Whale Sharks (Oslob, Cebu, Philippines) | Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

8 Responses

  1. Wow what an amazing experience! And those shots of you with the fish right behind you are spectacular. I’m surprised they didn’t give you a mask and snorkel so you could float in the water as long as you wanted. Or were they too deep down?

    1. They did give us a mask and snorkel but…it’s silly…I don’t like using masks and snorkels because I have this stupid fear of water (instead of air) entering my snorkel and also of my mask slowly filling up with water. 😀 I can’t recall if either of that has actually happened to me before but, yeah, I almost never use masks and snorkels for that reason. 😛

  2. Nice one! But the best whale shark experience is actually when you encounter them in the wild and in their natural habitat. Not like in Oslob where the fishermen feed them so they would come to tourists. We had one such wild experience when we scuba dived in Panagsama, Moalboal. We entered the water early morning—around 7 AM—so there were no divers except us. A whale shark (a huge one) unexpectedly visited the reef and swam beside us! Twice! One of the most magical moments we ever had!

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