Since 2011, fishers in Oslob have taken more than 750,000 tourists out into the waters off their village to see whale sharks up close. Tourists say they get a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The fishers claim that this industry helps them better take care of their families. The sharks show up because the fishers feed them every day. Many people think this adventure is harmless for the sharks and benefits local people. Others think the practice disrupts the sharks' natural behaviors and may hurt their well‑being. Who is right? Figuring that out isn’t easy. There are two sides to this story.

This is a view of the Sumilon Island beach landing near Oslob.

A guide feeds a whale shark to attract tourists.

For Whale Shark Tourism

Improving Lives

Before whale shark tourism, local people earned, on average, about $1.40 a day by fishing. It wasn’t enough to put food on the table or send their children to school. All that changed after a tourist offered to pay one of the fishers to take him closer to a whale shark, so he could have an up-close experience.

From that one tourist sprang a community-based dive company that attracted more visitors. This shark-viewing business earned more than $18 million in five years. Now, locals say they have more money to provide for their families. Families have more money for healthcare, food, and education.

The guides and their families aren’t the only ones who prosper. The industry gives 10 percent of its profits to the local village to support its economy.

The industry also gives 30 percent of its profits to the surrounding towns. Resorts and other places to stay have popped up to support the crowds. Many people sell food or souvenirs to tourists while they are in town.

The guides claim that feeding the whale sharks is good for all fish species in the area. Fewer people need to fish to make a living, which puts less pressure on other types of fish. And in this area, where people have an interest in their survival, the whale sharks are less likely to be killed for their fins by poachers.

Some scientists also think that the tourism is a good thing for whale sharks. Having so many people see these sharks helps raise awareness about them as an endangered species. Educating people around the world could also help whale sharks in other parts of the world.

Signs point the way to whale shark watching.

Tourists swim with a whale shark.