Snorkeler with whale shark, Oslob. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino
Known in the local tongue as “butanding,” the whale shark is the largest extant specie of fish, reaching lengths of almost 13 meters. Don't be put off by their shark-ness: these creatures are gentle giants, filter-feeders that feed solely on microscopic plankton.
Whale sharks have made top tourist hotspots of Donsol, Sorsogon and Oslob, Cebu, where one can “meet and mingle” with them. From the beach, tourists can hire rowboats to the butanding’s feeding grounds and snorkel for half an hour whilst the gentle giants swim about. The tour itself will clock in at three hours, during which tourists can kick back on the boat and look on at the whale sharks from above.
Whale shark season is from November to December in Oslob, and December to June in Donsol. In Oslob, whale watching rates are at PHP500 (US$11) per head. To swim with the whales, local tourists pay an added fee of PHP500 and foreign tourists PHP1,000 (US$22) apiece. In Donsol, boats (good for 6-7 persons) can be rented for PHP3,500 (US$75). Local tourists are required to pay a tourist fee of PHP100 (US$2) while foreigners pay PHP300 (US$6) per head, on top of optional fees for snorkeling gear (PHP150-300, or US$3-6).
Bear in mind that feeding or touching the whale sharks is prohibited. Be wary of tours that implement feeding as a way to lure whale sharks into view. Ecologically responsible tours advocate the least possible interference with these majestic creatures.
Canoes circle Oslob's whale sharks. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
Snorkeler with whale shark, Oslob. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
For other unique animal experiences in Southeast Asia, go to Cambodia to see river dolphins in the Mekong, or watch birds in their natural habitat at Tonle Sap. A little further afield, you'll find the great Komodo Dragons of Indonesia around the Flores islands.