The Filipino name for whale sharks is butanding and in Cebu they are called tuki.
What You Will See
You can expect to see up to 15 whale sharks including mature males, females and some juveniles. The fishermen split the whale sharks into two groups and feed them brine shrimp (their natural food) from small fishing boats. The fishermen feed the whale sharks from 6:00am to 1:00pm and lead them in front of visitors who can be sure of getting a close-up encounter with several whale sharks. No operations on Good Friday.
We strongly recommend NOT to visit Tan-awan at the weekend or on a public holiday as you may find the place over crowded with visitors which may well spoil you enjoyment – a long wait if you plan to go on a fisherman’s boat or too many people in the water.
Where You Will See Them
You will find the whale shark experience just off-shore from a beach in the small fishing village on Tan-awan, Oslob in southern Cebu. This is 77km from Turtle Bay Dive Resort – the scenic drive along the west coast of Cebu takes 90 minutes.
Best time to see the whale sharks is just after dawn when the sea is usually calm. The best months for weather conditions – March, April, May.
The whale sharks are in the area all the year round.
Options for the Experience
There are three options for your encounter with whale sharks:
- Scuba dive from a shore entry – bring all your own gear, tank and weight belt – it is a shallow dive (less than 5m) but note there can be strong currents along the coast;
- Snorkel – some gear available from the beach owner but probably better to bring your own; and
- Take a ride on a small fishermen’s boat – room for about 8 visitors per boat and time limit of 40 minutes.
In the 1990s, whale sharks were poached in the waters off Pamilican Island, Bohol. This was a lucrative business in the Visayas as whale shark meat and fins commended a high price in the Taiwanese market. Thankfully, in 1998 Fisheries Administration Order 193 was signed making it illegal to catch, sell, buy possess, transport and export whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines.
The local fishermen explain that the practice of feeding the whale sharks was not forced on the animals but was incidental. Uyap (small or brine shrimps) abound in the area and the fishermen use them as bait. Starting in July 2012, a lot of the fishermen were forced to stop fishing when a whale shark started to feed on the uyap. Then more whale sharks came. To divert their attention, so the fishermen could continue fishing, the fishermen would lead them out of the area by feeding them uyap further along the coast. There are now estimated to be as many as 14 whale sharks in the area including some juveniles.
The practice of feeding the whale sharks for tourists to see, started by chance in September 2011, when a fishermen led a whale shark in front of a dive shop in Oslob much to the delight of the visiting divers. By December 2011, tourists were flocking to the beach in Tan-awan not just to see the whale sharks being fed but also to snorkel or dive with them
What is Being Done to Protect the Whale Sharks
When diving with the whale sharks first started, one of the Moalboal dive shops set up a sign on the beach showing the protocol to be followed when snorkeling or diving with whale sharks. This included keeping a distance from them and not using strobe or flash lights.
Sadly, this was not enough of a warning to some over enthusiastic visitors who still insisted on touching, and in some cases, even trying to ride on a whale shark. So in January 2012, the local government of Oslob introduced Ordinance 091-S12, which provides measures for the protection and conservation of whale sharks. The local government staff or the Dive Center Group leader give briefings before each dive or snorkel and advise what is permitted and what is not permitted. There are fines for breaking the rules.
The Marine Park Fee collected by the local government is Php 1,500.00 for foreign divers, Php 1,000.00 for foreign snorkelers and Php 600.00 for foreign boat riders. The fees for Filipinos are lower and are set out in one of my blogs on whale sharks. The Marine Park Fees are shared between the boatmen who feed the whale sharks and take visitors on boats to get up close, the municipality of Oslob and the barangay of Tan-awan
Some of the rules to be followed by visitors are:
- Only the whale shark feeders (there are 14 of them) are allowed to feed the whale sharks;
- No touching of whale sharks by hand, foot or camera;
- No blocking of the whale sharks path leading to the feeders boat;
- No flash lights or strobe lights;
- Keep at least 3m from the whale shark.
Downside for Whale Sharks
The whale sharks are being fed brine shrimp by a few appointed fishermen (14) which appears to have affected the behavior of the whale sharks which now approach the fishermen’s boats seeking to be fed. This may lead the whale sharks to approach all small boats they encounter as they relate small boats to easy food; some of boatmen in other areas may not be so friendly to the gentle giants.
Where Else They Can Be Seen
From December to May, visitors can snorkel with whale sharks in the bay at Donsol in Luzon. The whale sharks are spotted from outrigger boats – locally known as bancas – which then approach the whale sharks and allow a limited number of visitors into the water to snorkel with the whale sharks – scuba diving is not permitted in Donsol.
Half-Day Excursions By Turtle Bay Dive Resort
We arrange half-day excursions on any week day for guests staying at the resort. So that we are sure to get the best sea conditions and fewest visitors at Tan-awan, we leave the resort at 5:00am and drive 77km to Tan-awan; we are in the water at Tan-awan for a shore entry dive or snorkel by 7:00am.
Our excursion package includes:
- round trip transfer between the resort and a private beach in Tan-awan;
- transport of all dive gear, tanks and weights;
- provision of snorkeling gear;
- one guided shore dive with whale sharks - the dive lasts as long as your air lasts; a second dive can be arranged but this requires payment of a second Marine Park Fee;
- payment of the Marine Park Fees on behalf of our guests;
- after the dive, we provide breakfast, hot coffee and tea in a bamboo beach cottage on the beach
- we provide towels - showers and toilets are available at the private beach we use.
The cost of our excursion package per person is:
- divers with one shore dive = Php 5,700.00 plus Marine Park Fee;
- snorkelers including snorkeling gear = Php 65,100.00 plus Marine Park Fee:
- boat riders = Php 5,100.00 plus Marine Park Fee.
- children 4 to 12 are half price.