Ban on whale sharks feeding hailed

whale-shark-man-swimmingEnvironmentalists welcome the order of the environment department to stop the hand feeding of the whale sharks in Oslob town in southern Cebu.

But they think it came late.

“That order is long overdue,” said Cebu Daily News columnist and environment lawyer Gloria Ramos.

“We’ve been pressing BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) to stop the feeding. Because it’s plain and simple exploitation. That is not protection of the wildlife,” Ramos said.

Stakeholders should be educated on proper treatment of marine wildlife and the marine ecosystem in general, said Dr. Lemuel Aragones, a marine biologist of the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

Aragones recommended setting up a participatory marine management system in areas where the ocean going whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) visit.

The Philippine Earth Justice Center headed by Ramos agreed, citing the whale watching eco-tourism activity in Donsol, Sorsogon which doesn’t do fish feeding.

“There are ways of helping the fisherfolk. There are many alternative sources of livelihood,” Ramos said.

She added that the other options should not divide the fisherfolk who have eked a living in the flourishing whale shark tourism in Oslob and those who are for responsible treatment of wildlife.

She hoped government agencies go beyond ordering a halt to fish feeding in Oslob.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered its regional office in Region 7 to stop the hand feeding of the whale sharks, touted as the world’s biggest fish species.

The practice of feeding the whale shark is against established protocols on whale shark watching, said Dir. Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau which is under the DENR.

“I hope they are serious in the issuance of that order. And if dili muhunong ang LGU, I hope they will go to the extent of filing cases to stop the practice,” Ramos said.

UPWELLING IN OSLOB?

Aragones and colleagues believe upwelling may have caused the whale shark sighting in the southern town.

“There is this hypothesis of a small group of scientists in UP which we believe that there might be an upwelling in that section,” the marine biologist specializing on mammals said.

Upwelling occurs when “there’s a movement of water from the bottom to the surface seasonally” which brings nutrients and prey to the surface.

Whale sharks primarily feed on planktons which are abundant as krills, a small shrimp-like marine animal.

Fishers in Oslob feed the whale sharks with krill.

Aragones emphasized this naturally happens around monsoon summer and not the whole year round.

He believed the whale sharks spotted at the watching and feeding activities in Oslob are mostly young ones.

“They (young whale sharks) are easy to entice. And that’s what they have done. To condition that behavior. And that’s why you don’t see those big whale sharks go out of the surface. Behaviorally, may predisposition na rin sila sa genes nila na that in terms of cost-benefit, that’s not very beneficial,” Aragones explained.

The Philippines is one of the earliest countries to have laws protecting the whale sharks when it enacted Fisheries Administrative Order 198 in 1998. The order prohibits killing, harming and trading of whale sharks.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes the gentle giants in its Red List or vulnerable list. Those included in the list are classified as being an endangered species. By  

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