Kissed by a Butanding: A Whale Shark Encounter in Oslob, Cebu

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hello Mr. Gentle Giant!
I'd be a cheat If I say I did not fly to Cebu just for the sake of getting a photo with a butanding. To tell you frankly, I was really thrilled when I found out that people can swim with the butanding in Oslob. Swimming with the gentle giants has always been included in my bucket list.
I swear I din not touch the Butanding. Please zoom in.
Update as of October 2012

Prior to the trip, I did some research about the whale shark ecotourism in Oslob. Due to an overwhelming hype, it is not surprising that concerned individuals such as environmentalists submitted a petition to stop the activity. Because of this, the DENR in partnership with BFAR is conducting a three month study concerning the whale shark behavior. The study commenced on the 27th of September, and after the three-month long research, group of experts will be submitting findings and recommendations to DENR.
close up
The Whale Shark Encounter

After a short briefing, we headed to the area where the sharks are being fed. 'Kuya asan na po sila?' I asked one of the boatmen. He said, 'Ayan na po Mam'. And here they come, the famous Whale Sharks of Tan-awan Oslob, Cebu. 
One by one, we went into the water so we could see them up close. I was really terrified when one of the whale sharks came out of nowhere! They are huge, but they swim fast.
They would position vertically to catch the food
When a boat comes, whale sharks would nudge it as if begging for food. It looks like they associate boats with food. I am not an expert, but I think this behavior is not normal. Hitting the boat gives them scratches which I clearly saw when I swam with them. Mind you, most of them have scratches in the head part which is very alarming. One of the boatmen shouted the time is up after 30 minutes. We went up back to the boat. The whale shark encounter was indeed surreal.
FYI This is not a butanding hahaha
After the Encounter

Ambivalence, that's exactly how I felt after the whale shark encounter. I was happy to see them up close but at the same time I felt sad seeing their scratches. The feeling was VERY different after the encounter. Days prior to the trip, I was really excited to see them. I've been saying to my friends that this would be the highlight of the trip. It was the highlight but I did not expect that the exhilaration will be replaced by distress. Maybe some of us don't realize that this is an alarming situation. The Whale Shark ecotourism has definitely helped the community in Oslob. But I still wonder what will be the effects of this activity in the long run. I am glad that there are people who continuously fight for this battle. The whale sharks may not appear vulnerable but they have to be protected as well. 

As you notice, I did not create a travel guide. I simply don't want to promote this activity because of what I witnessed. I don't have the right to tell people not to see the Butanding in Oslob. But if you are planning to visit Oslob for the whale shark encounter, think about it. Or better yet, explore the other parts of Oslob like the Tumalog falls and Sumilon Island. Oslob is a lovely place, after all.

A photo of myself kissed by a Butanding. I actually did not notice that it is coming towards my direction. I might have created too much bubbles that's why it came after me. When I turned around, I bumped into its mouth.  Malambot sya, hindi ako nasaktan. Ineexpect ko na masakit or hahampasin ako. Pero hindi. Maybe that's also the reason why they are called Gentle Giants. 

What experts say? Take time to read this article made by Elson Aca.

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  1. It's the same in Donsol, it was crazy seeing 30 boats in the water, bumping into each other, just to see one whale shark, when their own briefing stated that they it's should only be one boat per shark. I went out twice (800/trip) and didn't see a butanding. I was planning to go to Oslob, but after reading your review I'm having second thoughts. But my to-do list demands that I swim with the whale sharks :/ DENR should really do a better job of regulating and promoting ecotourism.

  2. That's exactly how I felt before I went to Oslob. A part of me is saying no, but I still went just to satisfy my curiosity. It feels great when you get to see them up close but seeing their scratches makes my heart cry. I wonder what happened in the research of DENR last year. Anyway, it's your decision if you like to go or not. Thanks for dropping by :)

  3. Yeah, that's the word ambivalence! I experienced that too after my whaleshark encounter in Oslob..

  4. A feeling that is very hard to explain. Kawawa lang talaga mga butanding dun. :(

  5. This is the reason in snob oslob when in i did the southern cebu tour last march. Domesticated maxado ang mga whale sharks. Sooner or later mawawala na sila bec of unbalance ecology brought by the want of the people to witness them in comfort. Thank you for sharing your feelings towards your encounter.

  6. Glad you didn't go see them. Nagsisi talaga ako. Nung nandun kami, may isang butanding na matagal nawala. Tapos nung bumalik sya, ang dami nya daw malaking sugat. Sabi nung mga tao dun, baka raw lumapit yung butanding sa malaking barko kasi akala nya papakainin sya. Patunay na hindi talaga magandang practice yung ginagawa dun :(

  7. Dapat siguro the lgu should look for other sustainable means for the locals. Sila rin ang kawawa kapag nawala n ang mga yan sa karagatan ;(