"As I stood on the boat with my morning coffee and watched the people pile in the boats and head out to the whale sharks, my immediate reaction was “we are in a whale shark theme park”. Pop in a roller coaster and a hot dog stand and we have an instant attraction for the entire family. An Imax theatre would be nice, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved swimming with the whale sharks. But when I saw what was really going on, my experience in a previous life of helping open a maritime-based educational facility with a theme-park mentality in Norfolk, Virginia migrated to the top of my mind. Move em’ in, provide the experience, move ‘em out. Bring in groups. Stock the gift shop and make sure the food is decent. That’s what is going on in Oslob. I believe it’s become more about the peso than the whale shark. I can’t blame them for developing the tourism business. But I wonder... is there a balance that can be reached?
This new attraction has spawned a great deal of controversy. In the purest sense, the don’t-alter-natural-behavior-of-animals group wants to close it down. The folks in the town want to keep it going, since it has provided additional income for the fishermen and fostered the development of a small hospitality industry in the village.
The local fishermen feed the whale sharks tiny shrimp that rise from the bottom at night. There’s an article by Steve De Neef, who lives nearby, that states they recently depleted the supply of local shrimp. Now they buy their feeder shrimp from somewhere else. I understand the concern about not interfering with the animals. In fact, one of the most popular whale sharks has been injured, and is now blind in one eye. He’s gone now."