You have probably already heard or talked about someone who swam with the majestic fishes that are whale sharks!
We wanted to see them at all costs. Initially, the plan was to swim with them on the West coast of Australia near Ningaloo reef when they are migrating naturally. Plans changed and we ended up heading to southeast Asia, being sad that we did not have the chance to see whale sharks. While traveling through the Philippines, we heard about Oslob, a small fishing village on the island of Cebu, where it is possible to swim with whale sharks for 30 minutes in the ocean. Honestly, at the time I wondered if this was the thing to do. From what I had heard, I thought the experience was a little "too much" and seeing all the small kiosks in town that offered the same day trip didn't help. My desire was too great and I was told by tourists that the activity is well organized, the lives of the sea animals are respected and that the activity in itself drives the economy of the village. Sounds fair! So, it's done, we booked our trip for tomorrow 9:00 am.
6:00 am : We are ready for the Banka ride which brings us with our backpacks to the island of Cebu. Arrived on the spot, hundreds of crowded tourists are ready to live the experience, cameras ready and orange rescue jackets well in place. Before meeting these creatures, we attend an information session indicating some very important regulations regarding the behavior to have during the activity : never to touch the animal and not to put sunscreen. What we noticed is that the good majority of tourists are not paying attention and only wish to have their photos to gloat about their experience and worst of all, they start applying sunscreen right after the presentation. Our turn arrives and we hop into the water.
WOW, I am without a word, they are impressive; five enormous whale sharks take turns gliding next to us, ever graceful with their 7 meters long. I look around and notice sadly that most swimmers do not know how to swim and in spite of this, touch and "kick" the whale sharks. I realize that this activity is anything but ecological and good for the well-being of this species, but it is already too late for me.
I realize that the activity may well bring several jobs and help the economy of the small village but beyond that, what about the species and its preservation? The daily feeding of whale sharks on the site prevents them from reaching their final migration and thereby breeding. Although they are not confined to a zoo aquarium, we keep them in captivity all the same.
It was not, in the end, the "natural" experience that I hoped for and by far the most ecological idea I have had, in order to exalt my thirsty, selfish desire to swim with whale sharks. I will have really learned from this experience and today I can tell you, yes you ! Who had perhaps in mind to go there one day, that there are better ways to achieve this experience and certainly more eco-friendly ways. Say, Ningaloo reef for example.
Error is human, the important thing is to be aware of it, to learn from our mistakes and to avoid going against our values!