Swimming with whale sharks is at the top of most visitors bucket list when they come to the Philippines, however most of us are unaware of the negative impact this can have on these beautiful gentle giants – if not done ethically.
ETHICALLY SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS IN DONSOL
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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
PLEASE DON’T SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS IN OSLOB:
The most popular destination in the Philippines for this activity is Oslob. Why? Because you are pretty much guaranteed a sighting; however did you know there is a relatively dark reason for this? The whale sharks are lured in here with food, so rather than following their natural instinct to move away when boats approach, they instead flock at the prospect of being fed. Doesn’t sound so bad? Here are just some of the ways that this can cause them harm:
- Contact with humans – In Oslob there can be 100s of people at 1 time chasing the same whale shark. When everybody jumps into the water desperate for that perfect instagram shot, it is inevitable that some element of human contact will be made. Whale Sharks are extremely sensitive to the bacteria that humans carry. And even a minor brush of our skin on theirs can cause them infection. Never mind the risk of being kicked in the eye or fin, which can cause more serious problems. (Are you following us on Instagram? Follow us here!)
- Contact with boats – The sharks are constantly rubbing against the side of boats as they are being fed, which can cause sore lesions in their skin. Furthermore, although the feeders aren’t permitted to use propeller boats, the whales aren’t to know the difference. They have been known to suffer severe injuries from propellers when approaching other boats.
- Change in natural habitat – The natural season for the whale sharks is 60 days, however since being fed, they are known to stay around for much longer. This could potentially have an impact on their breeding cycle, which in turn could have serious consequences on their future survival as a species.
- Poor Nutrition – The food the whale sharks are getting from the feeders, do not have the sufficient nutrients that they would obtain when hunting naturally.
There are still many that would argue that the feeding process of the whale sharks isn’t causing them harm, however research proves otherwise & we were extremely grateful to be educated before we actively took part in it.
SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS IN DONSOL
After hearing of the unfortunate situation in Oslob, we regrettably decided we were not going to pursue our dream of swimming with whale sharks. However upon meeting another traveller who informed us of Donsol & the regulations in place to protect them, we were convinced to give it a try. Thankfully it was the season for whale sharks while we were in the Philippines, and although Donsol offered no guarantee of spotting them, we were willing to take the risk.
Upon arriving into Donsol, we were introduced to a company called FUN DIVE ASIA. Despite our original plan of snorkelling, they managed to convince us to dive. It was sold that not only would we see Whale Sharks, but Mantarays & White Tip Sharks as well.
We completed 2 dives, and to be honest both were extremely disappointing. Our dive master was very unprofessional & gave us no clear instructions for the dives. This resulted in one member of our group getting lost in an extremely strong current. Thankfully we found him, but that was all we did find. There was no sign of any of the marine life we had been promised. It immediately became clear that we had been exploited, and they had convinced us to dive in order to get more money.
As we headed back to base, morale was low & everybody felt disappointed. But then something amazing happened. One of the group spots the fin of a whale shark coming right in our direction!! The spotter quickly prepared us with our snorkels and gave the signal to jump into the water. Swimming as fast as we could we follow the whale shark at a safe distance for around a minute, before he plunged to the depths below. It was a surreal yet incredible experience, and despite our disappointment in FUN DIVE ASIA, will be a memory of our travels we’ll never forget.
To summarise, we highly recommend you choose Donsol for your whale shark experience. Although there are less guarantees, if you do spot them, you are seeing them in their natural habitat. Roaming free as they should be… not herded in by the guys who want to make a profit!
One piece of advice though is DO NOT use FUN DIVE ASIA or be convinced by any of the agencies to scuba dive. We later found out that diving is actually NOT PERMITTED in Donsol Bay, so any company that is organising this has no respect for the regulations in place. Snorkelling in Donsol Bay is the best and safest way of seeing the whale sharks.
BEST TIME TO SEE WHALE SHARKS IN DONSOL
The best time to spot the whale sharks in Donsol is between APRIL & MAY.
COST OF SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS IN DONSOL
At time of writing, the cost to hire a boat for the day is 3500 PHP. The boat is good for around 6 people and includes the spotters, boat crew & snorkelling equipment.
HOW TO GET TO DONSOL
As there isn’t much else in Donsol, we recommend to stay in Legazpi and take a day trip to Donsol. For more information on Legazpi, you can check out the full blog post: ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO LEGAZPI
There is a public a/c mini van from 7am every morning from Legazpi Bus Terminal that will take you directly into Donsol Town. They leave when the bus is full & the journey is around 1.5 hours. It should cost 100 PHP however they are known to double the fare if they don’t have enough people by 8am.
There are also daily buses from Manila to Donsol which take around 13 hours.
Be sure to check out 12go, asia for the current timetable and pricelist.
LEGAZPI BUS TERMINAL MAP LOCATION
WHERE TO STAY IN LEGAZPI
Budget – Mayon Backpackers Hostel – The only hostel in Legazpi so be sure to book in advance.
Mid-Range – Third & Seans Place – This was the guesthouse we stayed in and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
Luxury – The Oriental – For a touch of luxury and panoramic views of Albay, this is the place to stay – This 5-star hotel is situated up in the hills and hosts an onsite pool and gym.
For more places to stay in Legazpi, you can check for the latest prices here.
WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING
Below are the essential items that we carry with us on every adventure. But to ensure you don’t leave behind any of those backpacker essentials, here is our free printable packing list.
1. REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
It is no secret that single-use plastic is causing irreversible damage to our ecosystems, it is therefore imperative that as travellers, we try to minimise our consumption as much as possible.
We always carry a reusable water bottle and you will find that most hotels or hostels have a refill station. Not only is it better for the planet but you’ll save cash too!
We Recommend: Stainless steel Insulated Water Bottles
2. VERSATILE WALKING SHOES
When going on any backpacking adventure, we always carry some versatile walking shoes with us. We personally love the 2 in 1 shoes by Aleader as not only can we wear them hiking, but they act as water shoes too!
We Recommend: Aleader 2 in 1 Hiking Shoes. Use code OURTASTEFORLIFE15 for 15% off your order.
3. GOPRO ACTION CAMERA & ADVENTURE KIT
If you want an action camera that is durable and safe to take in the water, then look no further than the Go Pro. Small, lightweight, and easy to handle, you really ought to carry one of these with you on any backpacking adventure. Check out our full photography travel kit.
We Recommend: GoPro Hero 7 (White) Action Camera + Adventure Kit
4. QUICK DRY MICROFIBER TOWEL
They really do dry fast! Ultra-compact and lightweight so you can take to the beach easily. Not just the beach, this item is great for hiking, swimming, any outdoor adventure!
We Recommend: Microfiber Travel Towel
It should go without saying; however, when enjoying the underwater world, it’s important to be mindful of the environment. It is no secret that some of our planets fragile ecosystems are at risk of extinction. There are many small steps you can take to becoming a responsible traveller, check out the Eco-Travel essentials here. It is our duty as travellers, that we reduce our footprint where we can, here are some tips:
- Be careful with any rubbish that it doesn’t fly overboard. Keep it secure until you can dispose of it properly.
- Do not leave anything on the islands, or take anything away – unless you’ve purchased it from a local supplier.
- Wear Reef Safe Sunscreen.
- Try to avoid touching coral, marine life or anything underwater… unlesss it’s plastic, help keep our oceans clean.
More on Philippines
Planning a trip to the Philippines? Check out some of our other articles to help plan your trip:
- 21 Unmissable Tourist Spots in Coron, Palawan
- ISLAND HOPPING TOURS IN CORON
- ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES
- 8 ADVENTUROUS THINGS TO DO IN LEGAZPI, PHILIPPINES
- A SIMPLE GUIDE TO THE PHILIPPINES
Did you enjoy our guide to swimming with whale sharks, Donsol?
Let us know. That concludes our guide to swimming with whale sharks, Donsol. We hope you enjoy your time in this magical city. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here, where we share further travel advice & inspiration.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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We heard about Donsol as well during our time in the Philippines. Unfortunately Whale Shark season was already over when we contacted some of the local companies.
This is still on our bucket list but of course only if the sharks are not lured to the tourists like it’s happening in Oslob.
It’s so important to make other tourists more aware of the harm this exploited Whale Shark tourism is causing!
Great job guys!
Julia & Berni
Hi Julia & Berni! Thank you for taking the time to comment. If we all spread awareness, we are helping the cause ♥ We hope you get to swim with them, it is a surreal experience! Wishing you all the best!