Last year we traveled 6 weeks in the Philippines and it was my first time in South-East Asia. Back then I didn’t know there were so many tourist attractions involving animals. One of the highlights of the Philippines is swimming with whale shark. Don’t freak out ! They have more to do with whales since they only eat plankton and are totally harmless.
What’s happening there
But these noble creatures are endangered and follow a fragile lifestyle. They are quite vulnerable to pollution and migrate around the globe to follow their food cycle. Although you won’t find this information on any brochure ! When you start looking for hot spots to dive with them, most of them redirect you to Oslob, on Cebu Island. 100% guaranteed chance to swim with migrating animals ? Does sound a little bit odd, yeah ?
Why it’s wrong
After a few minutes on Google, we realized that they actually feed them shrimps every morning to keep them around. This way you can make sure the big fishes stay around and your tourists can go home with great pictures … But at what cost ? According to studies, this activity changes their behavior and breaks the wildlife balance where these animals are supposed to migrate.
Where to go
After getting that information we decided to follow their migration route and head where our chances were the highest at the moment: Donsol. In Donsol, a lot of international organizations follow and study the population of whale sharks and strictly control the tourist activities there. On every boat you have a guide who’s also in charge of the well being of animals, and they’re not joking ! A group of Chinese tourists got pulled out of the water on another boat, so we could say they follow the rules.
What happens is that they take you on a boat and roam around the bay, with someone standing on the roof to spot whale sharks. You might see no animals in two hours, and that is part of the experience ! We got extremely lucky and could see 3 of them. We also had enough time to jump in the water and swim for a minute next to them. Some tourists we met had to do the trip 3 times to be able to see one. When they are not fed by humans they remain very shy, and once they don’t feel at ease they just get out in no time.
That way you won’t be 100% sure to see a whale shark, but it makes a big difference to see a wild animal in his natural habitat rather than sponsoring activities that endanger them.
I don’t think I had bad traveling habits in the past. But this was the first of many times I made a decision based on ethics rather than “outcome”. No regrets !