Note: I have done my best to solely report the facts about the whale shark encounter at Oslob and will leave any moral decisions about the right or wrongness of it up to individual reader.
Though I heard mixed reviews about the whale shark encounter at Oslob, I don’t like to assume too much without experiencing something. I also knew someone going to the other big whale shark spot in Donsol and wanted to compare. The ecological difference is that the whale sharks in Oslob are fed whereas they are truly wild in Donsol, but more on that later.
I stayed overnight in Oslob not far from the debriefing location so I could get there around opening at 6 a.m. Even then there were quite a few people around. The debriefing covers basic rules for interacting with the whale sharks, how far to stay from them, don’t touch them and that no one is allowed to wear sunscreen to protect the areas ecosystem. Unfortunately, none of these rules are particularly enforced. They mention there is a place to wash off sunscreen, but I didn’t see anyone taking advantage and I highly doubt everyone knew to not wear any. I had bought a rash guard specifically for snorkeling and such so was already not wearing any myself.
After the debriefing you go to the payment center. The cost as of 2017 was 1000 PHP for 30 minutes in the water or 300 PHP for staying on the boat. After paying you are given a group number, but there is very little communication about where to go after that so it’s mostly a lot of people milling about getting in each other’s way until they manage to end up in the right place. The boat takes you out a bit into the water where fisherman are paddling back and forth dropping food from their boats. The tourist boats position themselves in a loose line with one every few meters and let off their passengers. If you swim too far from the boat one of the boatmen calls out warning you not to chase the whale shark. The water is murky so visibility is not great, but it’s easy enough to see when they are swimming so close.
One of the boatmen will get into the water and take your camera, telling you when to submerge to get a picture of yourself with the whale shark swimming behind you.
The whale sharks at Oslob are mostly young since the water is relatively shallow and would not allow the bigger adults to come close enough. The maintain 4 meters distance is already shot when you get in the water as the fisherman don’t seem to be paying any attention to people when they throw the food and it sometimes comes extremely close. Being young and used to being around people, though, the whale sharks themselves occasionally make enforcing the rules very difficult such as the one who attempted to swim directly through me and was not very concerned with my frantic attempts to be good and not touch it.
The boatman taking pictures at the time did not warn me of it coming up behind me and simply continued to take pictures, which was a tad irritating.
After your 30 minutes are up it’s back in the boat and back to the shore which is lined with souvenir stalls selling all manner of whale shark paraphernalia.
This is the feedback I heard from a friend who went to Donsol, not anything I have experienced myself.
For 500 PHP you get 3 hours in the water in a place known to be frequented by whale sharks. Sightings are not, of course, guaranteed but if you are there during the time they migrate through as she was near the end of March, you have a decent chance of encountering one. There was only one while she was there, but it was a good sized adult of about 12 meters (~40feet). The water in Donsol is much deeper than Oslob and visibility is about the same. If you want to see an awe inspiring-ly large whale shark, this would be my recommended location.