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We thought our quest to find whale sharks had ended in Donsol, but rumors of more abundant sharks on another island in Oslob had been spreading for several months.

We discovered Oslob by chance – it’s just a small blip on Google maps and isn’t even in the guidebooks yet.

Riding a jeepney (a repurposed WWII jeep used for public transportation) on our way to El Nido, we met a Finnish traveler named Dave, who had just left our destination and told us about his stay at Katrina Residence.  We took his suggestion and headed to Katrina when we arrived in El Nido.  We met several of the instructors at a popular dive shop when we checked in.  After telling us incredible stories of whale shark interactions, one of the instructors gave us a name and a phone number for a contact in the tiny beach town of Oslob, which was on the south side of Cebu.  He said we were guaranteed to have a sighting. Since I had seen a mere flipper in Donsol, I was skeptical yet hopeful.  Adam tried to call the contact in Oslob, but only had a few brief text and email exchanges to get some more information.  She tried to arrange a tour for us but we wanted something more spontaneous and cheaper. We decided to head to Oslob anyway without any concrete plans, so all we had was a bus stop name and what we thought was the name of a hotel when we flew into Cebu. It was late at night and the airport information booth almost scammed us into taking a pricey car service, as we were anxious to secure a place to stay.  But we ended up hopping on a bus and were woken up several hours later by a driver saying we were in Tan-awan, a division of Oslob.

We were dropped off in the pitch black in what felt like the middle of nowhere.  We had incorrectly assumed we could find a tricycle and get a ride to the hotel. There were no tricycles, no taxis, no jeepneys nor cars and not a person in sight. And our “bus stop” was more of a ditch in front of someone’s house. The whole town was asleep.  We switched from airport duffle bag mode to backpacker mode and started to walk.

We heard what we thought was a karaoke bar. Drunk people to help us! We peered into a fence and it was a family singing for a small birthday celebration. Thankfully one of the guys came out into the street and we asked where Renny Boy’s place was – he was kind enough to walk us in the right direction. We arrived at a gate with a huge whale shark painted on it. This felt a bit more promising, but it was still complete darkness on the compound. He started to speak in Tagalog and light switches came on and sleepy people came out into the yard – about 10 people, a grandma, little kids, and several adults. Feeling awful for waking up this sleeping family, we shyly asked for a room. We were told only a cottage was available – “great we will take it!” Until we realized it was an open cabana and we would have been eaten alive by mosquitoes. One room was under construction but we gladly took it while profusely apologizing for waking up the whole household. The family was very kind and said we should be up at 5am – in 5 hours.

We overslept until 5:30 and it almost felt like we had missed our opportunity. The beach was swarming with fisherman and people starting to gather to purchase tickets to see whale sharks.  We scrambled to get our scuba gear together and in less than 30 minutes we were wading into the water – several sharks had already been spotted this morning!

Neville was our guide and he also happened to be the owner of Renny Boy’s where we were staying (we found our later it was actually called Aaron’s Beach Resort and Renny Boy managed the property). We defogged our masks and did a quick descent.

I don’t really have the words to describe when I saw my first whale shark. Everything seemed to go in slow motion and I found myself holding my breath – a huge diving no-no – not believing what I was seeing. I caught a glimpse of Adam and the other diver in our group – we all had huge glassy eyes and were fumbling around in our flippers to get our bearings to not get in the giant’s way. A bluish gray and covered in giant white dots, it was gorgeous and the moment felt surreal.  Then another shark hovered above, soon at a 90-degree angle, as it was being fed by a fisherman overhead. We saw a total of three whale sharks that morning and were fortunate to be the only divers on the water (there had been 25 the previous day).  We had several boats of snorkelers above as well, which was fine. Except one of the snorkelers kept grabbing and poking at the whale sharks, which was “against the rules” but more bothersome to see him agitating the gentle creatures.

Seeing the whale sharks was not only one of the best experiences in the Philippines but one of the most memorable in my life. Feeling dwarfed as a 12m giant slowly careens past you is humbling and truly remarkable. So much that the diver we were with had to ascend earlier than us because his tank ran low due to gasping for air in awe of what we were seeing.

After our dive, we had a nice breakfast with Neville and his wife Ester. Ester and her family are from Oslob, while Neville is from Australia. They bought their house with beautiful beach front property a few year’s back even before Neville discovered the whales the fisherman had been seeing for years. He posted a YouTube video of the whale sharks and their home has seen an explosion of visitors in just the past few months alone.

After breakfast, we took a motorcycle ride and hiked to Tumalog waterfalls nearby and then rode around town on a clear sunny afternoon. Not trying to sound all sentimental but Adam and I both felt this moment solidified everything we were hoping to get out of our big trip. Seeing the whale sharks, Neville and his family’s kindness and experiencing the joys of nature, epitomized many of our travel hopes in the span of just a few hours.

Adam and I like to share this story with excitement but we know once this gem is discovered by more people, the tourism infrastructure will completely change the experience for those who come to Oslob in the future.

  • whale shark looking for something to eat
  • Whale shark surrounded by snorklers and fishing boat
  • One of our first views of the gentle giant
  • Hungry whale shark?
  • Whale shark cruising by
  • Lionfish
  • Adam at Tumalog Waterfalls
  • Amanda at Tumalog Waterfalls
  • On our motorbike ride around Oslob
  • Man plowing field
  • Whale shark up close and personal
  • Huts with an ocean view
  • Gate in front of Aaron's Beach Resort
  • Amanda getting a closer look
  • Adam getting a closer look
  • two whale sharks near water's surface
  • big whale shark!
  • Amanda, Adam and whale shark
  • Another whale shark feeding
  • Whale shark being fed by fisherman

Posted: May 7, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Philippines


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