I’ve always loved the story of Jonah and the whale from the Bible, as well as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and the movie Jaws, so I’ve always wanted to see a whale or a shark up close. One day, that particular wish came true on a trip to Oslob, Cebu, in the Philippines.

Oslob is a coastal town in the province of Cebu, a couple of hours’ drive from the city. One of Oslob’s main attractions is its whale sharks, and they draw in thousands of tourists every day.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest known existing species of fish. I know it sounds like a contradiction of sorts, but the “whale” in the name refers to its size (it can grow as big as a whale) as well as the way it eats (whale sharks eat plankton, like baleen whales). Whale sharks are not considered dangerous to humans, but they can be intimidating due to their size (the one I saw was as big as a bus!).

The main spot for whale shark watching is Barangay Tan-Awan, where there’s a tourist center that regulates the activities. There are also many eating places in the area, and some establishments even offer rooms for those who want to stay overnight.

For a fee (around PhP 600.00 or US$12, which includes the boat ride only a few meters off-shore), tourists can either go snorkelling or scuba beside the whale sharks, or just choose to stay on the boat (like I did). Divers aren’t supposed to go closer than 6-feet to the whale sharks, and those who do face a huge fine and imprisonment.

Some environmentalists don’t approve of what’s happening with the whale sharks at Oslob, saying that the whale sharks are starting to rely on being fed rather than go and find food on their own. They say this kind of messes up the food cycle (I’m not really sure if what they say is true, and I’d rather not comment on that issue). As it is, that is something for others to argue about.

Aside from the whale sharks, Oslob also has some ruins you can visit, called the “Cuartel”, which are Spanish-era barracks, and totally have no relation to Obama.  There is also the Tumalog waterfall, which is pretty awesome, too (except it’s a long hike from the entrance to the waterfall). If you’re really into scuba diving, you can go to Sumilon Island, and if you’ve got a bit of cash to spend, you can stay at the Sumilon Bluewater Resort on the island itself.

Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood

All photos by Jigs Arquiza, except for featured photo by Michael Liao on Unsplash

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