An archipelagic country of over 7,000 idyllic islands, the Philippines is an extremely biodiverse environment, with more than 52 thousand species living on its territory.
International tourists will be amazed by the unique flora and fauna of the Philippines and can take part in unforgettable activities involving animals, such as swimming with whale sharks.
Shark interaction for tourism purposes started in the late ‘90s in the Philippines and has become increasingly more popular. Today, as many as 1,500 people visit Oslob (one of the most famous whale shark hotspots in the country) every day, and the local economy has grown immensely for this reason.
This article is a useful resource for those who are interested in adding a swim with whale sharks in their Philippines holiday plans. Readers will find information regarding:
- Where to find whale sharks in the Philippines
- The price of swimming with sharks
- Shark encounter safety advice
- How to plan an ethical shark experience
Where Can I See Whale Sharks in the Philippines?
As mentioned before, swimming with sharks is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Philippines. The pioneer was the coastal town of Donsol, located on the island of Luzon (where the capital Manila is also found) which is still one of the most popular locations.
In order to get to Donsol, holidaymakers can take a 50-minute flight from Manila to Legaspi or choose the longer bus journey (about 11 hours) from the capital.
500 km away from Donsol lies Oslob, a town which is part of the island of Cebu. Most people reach it via bus (a 4-hour journey) from Cebu City’s Bus Station but it is also possible to arrive by ferry from Dumaguete.
More than 1 thousand whale sharks have been identified in the Philippines, which means that the country boasts one of the densest populations in the world. The animals do not only concentrate in Oslob and Donsol and with a bit of luck, they can also be found elsewhere.
Those who do not enjoy crowds can try less popular spots like Southern Leyte and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
How Much Does It Cost to Swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines?
The price of swimming with sharks in the Philippines is generally inexpensive for most foreign visitors, however, it can vary depending on the location.
Tourists pay a flat fee of 1,000 PHP (about USD $20) in Oslob for the whole experience. This includes the boat ride, the rental fee for the snorkeling equipment, and the 30-minute swim with the sharks. Locals are charged a reduced fee.
Other less crowded sites can be more expensive (up to $150) , depending on the type of package that the visitor decides to purchase.
Is It Dangerous to Swim with Whale Sharks?
Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet, measuring up to 40 feet in length and weighing up to 20 tons. They are an impressive and, for some, scary spectacle but are definitely not dangerous.
Whale sharks are filter eaters that feed on plankton and krill. They have very small teeth because they are not hunters like other types of sharks. They are considered to be docile and gentle creatures.
Most of the safety measures that one should observe during a whale shark encounter are actually designed to protect the animal. However, their massive size and swift movements may also result in injury for humans if one is not careful.
The best safety advice for swimming with whale sharks is:
- Keep a distance of 3 feet from the animal’s head
- Stay 10 feet away from the animal’s tail
- Do not touch the sharks
Do you need permits to swim with sharks in the Philippines?
Obtaining permits and licenses to organize whale shark activities and take tourists on a boat is the responsibility of the tour operator. Visitors should simply make sure to choose a reliable agency.
Scuba diving is not necessary to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines — snorkeling gear will suffice. The animals come relatively near the shore and often stay close to the surface for extended periods of time.
Should tourists desire to scuba dive during their whale shark encounter, they will need to have the appropriate certification.
It is important that tourists remember to keep a copy of their Philippine visa (if applicable) with them at all times during their holidays in the country.
Is Swimming with Whale Sharks Ethical in the Philippines?
Besides boosting the local economy, whale shark activities carried out for tourism purposes also keep poachers and hunters away, actively protecting an endangered specie. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Donsol leads sightseeing tours for tourists to observe the sharks in their natural habitat.
However, swimming with whale sharks has also sparked debate, especially in Oslob. Here, tour operators do not only take tourists to see the sharks but actively feed the animals to keep them close to the boats and the surface for longer. This disrupts the whale sharks’ natural behavior and can even affect their migration paths.
Moreover, the great numbers of tourists going into the water every day can create crowds around the animals, which are often touched and even inadvertently injured.
It is still possible to observe the sharks ethically. Tourists should keep an appropriate distance from these animals and prefer observing them in the wild rather than taking part in tours that feed the sharks. They should also report tour operators that act unethically, for example those who encourage tourists to hug the animals or grab their fins for pictures.