Since 2011, fishers in Oslob have taken more than 750,000 tourists out into the waters 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, it benefits local people. Others think the practice disrupts the sharks’ natural behaviors. They think it may hurt theirwellbeing. Who is right? That’s a tough one. 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 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 see a whale shark up close.

From that one tourist sprang a dive company that attracted more visitors. This whale shark-viewing business earned more than $18 million in its first five years. Now, locals say they have more money to provide for their families, and 10 percent of the profits help support the local village.

The industry also gives 30 percent of its profits to surrounding towns. Resorts and other places to stay have popped up. Many people sell food and souvenirs to tourists.

The guides claim that feeding whale sharks is good for all fish. Fewer people need to fish to make a living. And the whale sharks are less likely to be killed for their fins, since people in this area have an interest in their survival. Tourism also raises awareness about whale sharks as an endangered species. This could help whale sharks in other parts of the world.

Signs point the way to whale shark watching.

Tourists swim with a whale shark.