Connect with us
background

News

The Whalesharks of Oslob

Published

on

On our recent trip to the Philippines we were invited to visit the famous, but controversial, Whalesharks of Oslob. In the past, we had heard some negative reports about this experience and so it was with some trepidation that we agreed to go. First, we chatted to the team at Magic Island Dive Resort about what to expect. They told us that they used to boycott this experience themselves, as they had witnessed bad practices and only in the last few years, with tighter regulations being imposed, have they been taking their divers back to Oslob. With this expert local knowledge reassuring us, we packed up our camera gear and set off.

So, what goes on here? Well, for many years (some say over 100 years), way before it was a tourist attraction, fishermen have been feeding the Whalesharks that approach their boats, to keep them away from the nets and causing damage as they try to suck the tiny fish or shrimp through the small holes. In recent times, when people heard you could get up close with the magnificent fish, this practice started to bring in tourists. Now, the fishermen and the local village, make their livelihoods by selling tickets to see the Whalesharks. Tourists flock to Oslob in their thousands to get the chance to see and swim with the biggest fish in the sea.

We had arranged to do a dive first, as Magic Island Dive Resort is an accredited dive centre for this experience, and they are one of only a handful that are allowed to go beneath the surface.  We geared up well outside the protected zone, as boats with engines are not allowed, so we shore-dived and swam towards the main attraction. Soon we were marvelling at the Whalesharks above us as they approached the boats to be fed. Our guide counted 12 Whalesharks, and they were mostly small to mid-sized juveniles. Sometimes the Whalesharks would dive deeper and come in to inspect us before returning to the surface. Our group of five divers and two guides were the only divers in the water, and we had an hour to spend underwater (one of the many rules of diving here). From below, you get a completely different view of this experience, and we were amazed at just how few people got into the water with the gentle giants.

To see what this experience is all about though, we also wanted to join one of the boats to snorkel with the Whalesharks, which is what the majority of people who come here do. At first glance, it looks too crowded and we were worried about what we might encounter. We got into our boat that was paddled out to the main feeding arena. You only get 30 minutes and so we were ready to get in as soon as our boat was in position. The number of boats out on the water, as well as the number of feeders, corresponds to the number of Whalesharks in the bay on that day. As there were 12 sharks, it seems that there were about 12 tourist boats too, so perhaps around 100 people every half an hour (from day break to lunchtime) going to see them.

We were very surprised to see that most people just watched from the boat, or got into the water, but held onto the boat, so there were only a handful of people in the open water. This made it a much more pleasurable experience than we were expecting. We were given very strict instructions on not approaching the sharks: we could not use strobes, we were not allowed to wear sun cream and we were told that getting too close would see us getting a red card and sent out of the water. We were delighted to see that, when one snorkeler broke these rules, he was sent out of the water immediately. The Whalesharks themselves were incredible, slowly approaching to be fed, sucking the tiny fish from the water just in front of us, sometimes horizontal, and sometime positioned vertically in the water to feed. It is amazing to see.

We had heard stories of Whalesharks that had terrible injuries from the boats hitting them, but the boats here do not use engines and the only injury we saw was the bottom of a tail missing, which is unlikely to have been a propeller injury. We had heard stories of tourists grabbing or even riding the sharks, but this was not our experience at all. We had heard that the sharks never leave, but they are free to come and go and most only stay a few days and then move on, with one individual out of the hundreds that have been recorded here staying for over 300 days, in a very rare case.

As with many shark-feeding programs, the worry is that we are changing the behaviour of these Whalesharks by the very act of feeding them. There is a research organisation called LAMAVE that are based in Oslob and their researchers are in the water every day. They have a database of Whaleshark IDs so that they can monitor which individuals are visiting the site and for how long.

Whalesharks are a migratory species that follow their food sources around the globe. LAMAVE have discovered that a handful of Whalesharks stay much longer than would be normal in this area and so their behaviour has changed. Most, though, stay for a short period of time and then move on. Of course, Whalesharks may also mistake other boats, not in this protected area, as potential food sources and therefore be more prone to propeller strikes in the future. We only did one snorkelling session and did not see any bad behaviour from the snorkellers, apart from one, who was swiftly dealt with, so we hope that this side of people’s concerns have been reduced.

The local economy is now not based on fishing as it once was, but instead is based on showing tens of thousands of people these magnificent fish. There is a new school, hospital and infrastructure in the region, funded by the tourists that come here. We were delighted to see a boat of local school children pull up next to ours, and to observe their excitement at seeing Whalesharks for the first time, in the wild, was wonderful. The more people that fall in love with our seas, oceans and marine life, the more likely it is that they will protect it. Here, the Whalesharks are worth more alive than dead with their fins cut off; it is a trade-off that we can live with.

There is so much more we could write about this, but it will have to wait for another time. We were expecting our experience with the Whalesharks of Oslob to be a negative one, based on the stories we had heard, but in fact we came away having enjoyed it and we were re-assured that it is not a circus. This is not for everyone, that is for sure. It is not a wild encounter. We hope that the work of LAMAVE will continue to improve how the experience is run, so that the impact on the majestic Whalesharks is kept to a minimum, giving divers, tourists and locals alike a chance to see one of nature’s gentle giants up close.

For more information please have a look at the following websites:

www.magicisland.online

www.lamave.org

www.itsmorefuninthephilippines.co.uk

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

News

Join DEMA for “Decoding Congress: How Politics Shape the Dive Industry”

Published

on

dema

Join DEMA’s President & CEO, Tom Ingram, for an engaging discussion with Emily Coyle, a seasoned Washington lobbyist with over 25 years of experience in federal policymaking.

Learn how Congress does (and doesn’t) work, how politics influence policy outcomes, and their direct impact on the dive industry. Emily and Tom will also provide an update on the DIVE BOAT Act’s progress and answer attendee questions.

Don’t miss “Decoding Congress: How Politics Shape the Dive Industry” on June 25th at 12:00 PM PDT / 3:00 PM EDT.

Register in advance here and submit your questions for Emily.

Continue Reading

Blogs

The Ocean Cleanup & Coldplay announce limited edition LP made using river plastic

Published

on

coldplay

  • Limited ‘Notebook Edition’ LP release of new Coldplay album ‘Moon Music’ made using river plastic removed from the Rio Las Vacas, Guatemala by The Ocean Cleanup

  • First collaborative product the latest step in Coldplay’s support for global non-profit

  • Innovative product partnerships essential for long-term success of The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to rid the oceans of plastic

The Ocean Cleanup and Coldplay have confirmed that a limited ‘Notebook Edition’ LP release of the band’s album ‘Moon Music’ will be manufactured using plastic intercepted by The Ocean Cleanup from the Rio Las Vacas, Guatemala.

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this, the non-profit operates a dual strategy: cleaning up legacy plastic in the oceans and deploying Interceptors to capture trash in rivers and stop it entering the oceans.

Today’s announcement with Coldplay of this Notebook Edition LP is an example of the innovative product partnerships The Ocean Cleanup creates to give this plastic a new life in sustainable and durable products, ensuring the plastic never re-enters the marine environment.

coldplay

The Ocean Cleanup project deployed Interceptor 006 in the Rio Las Vacas in 2023 to prevent plastic emissions into the Gulf of Honduras. Interceptor 006 made significant impact and captured large quantities of plastic – which has now been sorted, blended, tested and used to manufacture Coldplay’s limited edition physical release. The final product consists of 70% river plastic intercepted by The Ocean Cleanup and 30% recycled waste plastic bottles from other sources.The successful production of the Notebook Edition LP using intercepted river plastic marks an exciting new phase in Coldplay’s broad and long-standing support for The Ocean Cleanup. Coldplay provide financial support for the non-profit’s cleaning operations, sponsor Interceptor 005 in the Klang River, Malaysia (which the band named ‘Neon Moon I’) and share The Ocean Cleanup’s mission with millions of their fans during their record-breaking Music of the Spheres tour.Coldplay and The Ocean Cleanup collaborated closely during the intensive testing and quality control process, alongside processing and manufacturing partners Biosfera GT, Compuestos y Derivados S.A., Morssinkhof and Sonopress.Having proven the potential of their partnership, The Ocean Cleanup and Coldplay will continue to explore new and innovative ways to combine their impact and accelerate progress in the largest cleanup in history.

coldplay

“Coldplay is an incredible partner for us and I’m thrilled that our plastic catch has helped bring Moon Music to life.” said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. “Ensuring the plastic we catch never re-enters the marine environment is essential to our mission, and I’m excited to see how we’ll continue innovating with Coldplay and our other partners to rid the oceans of plastic – together.”

coldplay

About the Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup is an international non-profit that develops and scales technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. They aim to achieve this goal through a dual strategy: intercepting in rivers to stop the flow and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean. For the latter, The Ocean Cleanup develops and deploys large-scale systems to efficiently concentrate the plastic for periodic removal. This plastic is tracked and traced to certify claims of origin when recycling it into new products. To curb the tide via rivers, The Ocean Cleanup has developed Interceptor™ Solutions to halt and extract riverine plastic before it reaches the ocean. As of June 2024, the non-profit has collected over 12 million kilograms (26.4 million pounds) of plastic from aquatic ecosystems around the world. Founded in 2013 by Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup now employs a broadly multi-disciplined team of approximately 140. 

Continue Reading

E-Newsletter Sign up!

Instagram Feed

Popular