Discover friendly behemoths and marine life as small as a
fingernail in the world-class dive hubs of Moalboal and Oslob
Cebu is home to a number of world-class destinations that figure high on the list of passionate scuba divers. Among these dive hubs, Moalboal and Oslob.
In 2011, when I was managing the luxury live aboard yacht S/Y Philippine Siren, I discovered somewhat by accident a small municipality right in the middle of the Tañon Straight. This was the almost invisible town of Moalboal whose surrounding waters attract sardines in the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
Unlike other sardine shoal magnets, the activity never dissipates with the fish congregating here all year long.
The adventure in Moalboal starts as your outrigger approaches the area, the density of the school apparent even from a distance. You actually enter the water right on top of the unsuspecting fish.
The effect is almost magical. The movement feels like you were in the midst of a sci-fi movie with an undulating silver mass engulfing you and your companions.
As with any sardine mass, the Moalboal shoal attracts a range of predators. This includes jacks and silver flatfish hunting in schools as well as the bonito, which is actually the smaller version of tuna. If you are really lucky, you may get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a thresher shark using its tail to feed.
But of all these usual predators, the most amazing sardine predator I have seen was the green turtle. These actually approach the weak sardines and gulp them whole, creating an awesome sight.
That said, Moalboal is not only rich in sardines, but also in macro life – little creatures, some no bigger than your fingernail. With advancements in underwater digital cameras, photographers are finding it easier to capture these minute wonders.
Some of the macro life present in Moalboal include:
• Blue-ringed octopus – Made famous by the James Bond film Octopussy, it’s one of the most poisonous creatures in the world.
• Frogfish or anglerfish – Touted as “extremely ugly” fishes that use a lure on top of their heads to suck in whatever prey comes their way.
• Nudibranches - Essentially snails that have lost their shells, which leaves their lungs exposed (pictured on the Travel opener section on page 27).
Just two hours away from Moalboal by car is the small barangay of Tanauan, Oslob. Thanks to the enterprising fisherfolk, who moved into the area in 2010, it would have remained obscure and not the popular tourist attraction it has morphed into today. It is one of the hotspots for sightings of the majestic whaleshark (pictured on pages 50 and 51).
About five years ago, the fishermen began to notice these behemoths frequent their fishing grounds. Attracted by the bait (krill) they used, the whalesharks would follow them around. To put a stop to this, one of the fishermen began to feed the whalesharks some distance away from the boats to allow undisturbed fishing.
This daily act of feeding domesticated the large animal, and now Oslob is the only place in the world where whalesharks will actually swim to you.
By the miracle of social media these friendly, majestic animals were discovered, and the sleepy barangay of Tanauan, Oslob became a veritable circus with thousands of visitors flocking to the area.
The experience starts with a briefing at the whaleshark interaction center followed by a short paddleboat ride out to the viewing line. Snorklers are then let into the water to view the animals while they are being fed.
To provide a tranquil environment for both the fishes and visitors, motorized boats are strictly forbidden in these waters.
Anywhere from 10 to 15 young whalesharks can be seen at any given time. They measure from three to five meters in size. Meanwhile, adult whalesharks can reach almost 12 meters when fully grown. And though they are huge, they are extremely docile and gentle creatures. I suggest you take a camera. Even an iPhone in a waterproof case can capture a stunningly good image of these unique wonders of the underwater world.