The Great Leviathans of Oslob

4:57 AM

   As one dives beneath the ocean, oblivious of time, a person is in one of the most magical places in the Philippines. This is where a giant acquaints with a human, leaving them in awe.  The “tuki” or “butanding” is the local name for the gentle giants of Oslob. The whales are large as a bus, yet calm as the waves on a windless day. Their skin is rough, quite like that of sandpaper and the beautiful hue of deep blue with white spots is how you can tell this isn't one of the man-eating sharks. 
   This whale shark watching haven started last September 2011 and it became popular all over the globe when it hit the news last November 2011. By December, local fishermen started interacting with the whale sharks by feeding them. As a result, these giants flocked the beach of Tan-awan, a small fishing village in Oslob. Large numbers of tourists began visiting the area to see this world wide eccentricity.
   According to a local tourist, Ana Adriano, the prices are very affordable. “You only pay so little for a once in a lifetime experience, I’d give my 500 to experience that any day,” she said. The fees vary depending on the activity an individual prefers. Whale watching is only for 300 pesos, whale watching plus snorkelling (inclusive of equipments) costs 500 peso for the locals and 1,000 pesos for the foreigners.
  Raphaelle Ortega, a licensed diver explains her experience in Oslob as one for the books. "I'm a beach bum and everything that has to do with the ocean I chase after. The moment I was standing on the shore and seeing the whale sharks swim just a few feet away from where I was standing was so exciting that I literally just wanted to drop everything and swim to those giants! But there are rules to follow so I had to contain myself," she added.
   Before anyone can swim with the whale sharks, he/she must first hear a lecture about the rules and regulations when swimming with them, it is one of their main requirements. These are the basic rules everyone should remember:
• Do not attempt to touch, ride, or chase a Whale Shark
• Do not restrict normal movement or behaviour of the Shark.
• Maintain a minimum distance of 3 meters from the Whale Shark.
• Do not undertake flash photography.
• Do not create huge splashes when entering the water.
• Viewing is limited for 30 minutes only.
• Feeding of whale sharks is strictly prohibited.
• Do not use sun block.
   Ortega’s first face to face encounter with the creature gave her “goose bumps on her goose bumps,” that's how intense the feeling was for her. “It is very complex for me to be able to detail out my feelings and experiences from what Oslob had to offer because the whole time I was just in perfect awe. It was like a fairytale, you can't actually make yourself believe that it was happening at that moment. The experience was magical for me” she added.
    To get to these creatures one must ride the native boat known as the “bangka” and enjoy the vast body of water with the morning sun scattering diamonds across its surface. After an excruciatingly long (If 20 seconds is long for you) boat ride to the whales, one can finally jump off the boat and swim with the whales.
  As the individual hits the water, he/she immediately sees the captivating creature, which leaves anyone for that matter, in a trance.  The whale sharks are so big, it makes one feel like he/she is in a movie.
 “The butandings that we saw were babies and they were as big as the banka. I remember a fisherman telling me that their mothers are as big as a bus,” Rex Diputado, another tourist said.
    Adriano also mentioned that the experience was life-changing. “I saw whale sharks the size of a van, one was close to the size of a Ceres Liner bus. It was a combination of being scared and being fascinated but the latter won over, making me dive under more frequently to take a glimpse of these fascinating creatures. As I dove into the water the second time, a whale shark grazed my arm.  Luckily, it wasn’t my fault for the whale shark itself swam to me so I did not have to pay the penalty.  The texture of its skin wasn’t smooth as I thought it would be since it somehow looked glossy under the sunlight, it was rather quite rough and hard.  This extremely memorable experience made me realize there still is hope for endangered creatures after all since they were being fed and cared of in a sanctuary,” she explained.

The situation is so surreal and fulfilling it makes one realize the beauty of life beneath the ocean.  There is no elixir on earth greater than the possibility of swimming with a fish so big and strong yet so calm and harmless. The experience is something you can't quite put into words the details and how your senses reacted to it. Swimming with them is like a dream you never want to wake up from.  It is an ultimate experience and adventure of the summer, of a lifetime and hopefully if these beautiful creatures remain, for years.

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