The whale shark project in Oslob, Cebu involves researching the resident population of whale sharks, monitoring the impacts of provisioning on the animals, and studying the socioeconomic implications of this tourism industry. This is LAMAVE’s longest and largest running project.  



The quiet seaside town of Oslob gained international publicity after the local government approved the feeding of whale sharks in the fishing Barangay of Tan-Awan in 2012.  What began as a small tourist operation, has skyrocketed into a booming industry that continues to grow, mostly unregulated. While the activities in Oslob have resulted in a large boost to the local economy, they raise ongoing conservation and sustainability concerns.  

Learning from a provisioning site

LAMAVE identified this region as an important source of insight into the long-term ecological and behavioral effects of tourism on these animals, and also on the socio-economic impacts on the local community. In 2012, we set up a research base and began monitoring whale sharks in Oslob through daily photo identification and behavioral surveys.  We also deployed multiple temperature-depth-recorder tags on local whale sharks to understand their local habitat use and diving behaviour.

In 2014, the teams' first scientific paper was published describing the Population structure and residency patterns of whale sharks visiting Oslob. Another scientific paper followed in 2015 outlining the findings of a three year study investigating whale shark behaviour and tourist compliance to the local code of conduct. The study highlighted that some local guidelines were being broken 97% of the time, highlighting an urgent need for improvement in the management of the tourism practice. LAMAVE continues to work with the Local Government Unit and the local community. 

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Extended residency and differences in lagged identification rates suggest behavioural modification on provisioned individuals, underlying the necessity for proper management of this tourism activity.
— Reference: Araujo et al., 2014

A recent study explored tourist perspectives on the ethics of feeding whale sharks in Oslob, Philippines. The scientific study published in the journal Tourism Management, investigated over 1,500 tourist surveys and TripAdvisor comments and found that tourists generally supported feeding whale sharks, despite being aware of the ethical complications of feeding sharks for tourism purposes. Tourists justified their participation using mainly economic, human enjoyment, and animal welfare arguments. Two-thirds of TripAdvisor comments that mentioned ethical issues were classified as “Guilty Pleasure”, whereby the tourists were aware of the moral and ethical issues of feeding an endangered species for tourism purposes, but still chose to do the tour and recommended it to others. Further discussions into this research can be found here.

Further studies,  new Recent collaborative research among the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the University of Guam (UoG), and the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) shows that whale shark tourism in Tan-awan, Oslob, Philippines has led to degradation of the local coral reef ecosystem. This study, which provides the first documentation of such ecological impact locally in Tan-awan, has recently been published in the scientific journal “Environmental Management”, and provided baseline data to measure future tourism management intervention and the shift towards a more sustainable tourism model.

Read more about how this project contributes to our nation wide whale shark research here