WHILE a divers organization said it was all right – and even beneficial – for fishermen to feed whale sharks in Oslob town, an environmentalist has called for a stop to the feeding.
Elson Aca, a Filipino whale shark researcher of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Phils.), made his appeal after he and the crew of the television program, “Born to be Wild,” observed the activity during a visit to Oslob town in southern Cebu last December.
Aca, WWF-Phils. project manager of the Whale Shark Tracking in Donsol, Sorsogon province, said he already sent his findings to Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren.
Aca told Cebu Daily News that the regular feeding of whale sharks off the seas of Oslob was altering their behavior.
The animals now associate the presence of the boats in the area with “food”.
“The experiment has shown that they quickly appear when boats start to show up in the area. I have also seen instances that they would approach the boat and nudge them slightly as if begging for food. From begging, a whale shark gets scratches on the head part from hitting the boat and the outriggers,” he said.
He said he noticed the scratches and paint marks on the head of some whale sharks.
“Some fishermen in other parts of the Philippines may think this begging behavior is an ‘aggressive behavior’ and may cause them to hit the whale sharks or worse , fishermen may have an easier chance to kill them for food,” he said.
Oslob fishermen hand feed the whale sharks baby shrimp or “uyap” (not krill as earlier reported).
Aca, who is a marine biologist, said feeding the whale sharks teaches them to be “lazy” and may dull their ability find their own food.
“What if the humans run out of food to give these whale sharks? If they get accustomed to this, they may die from starvation,” he said.
Aca said he was also concerned about the use of “uyap” or small shrimps for the feedings.
He said the large volume of dead small shrimps scattered in the area had attracted other fish species and whale sharks.
A local diver had told Aca that they had sightings of other fish species, normally found in deep seas, finding its way to the area.
“The implication suggests the shifting of their habitat that may pose a danger to tourists if their presence continues,” he said.
“The increased concentration of “uyap” also increases the presence of small jellyfish that feed on them,” he said.
With the shallow waters of barangay Tan-awan, the area may also be dangerous for the whale sharks because the strong ocean current and waves may push them a shore and get them stranded.
Aca also suggested that tourists in the area should be made to sign a waiver in case of accidents happening such as a tourist being hit by the whale shark’s tail.
He also suggested that boats with propellers should be docked in a designated area because their presence may harm tourists as well as whale sharks.
“The weakness of the existing rules and the lack of system and protocol have led to the non-compliance to the regulations. Enforcement has been a major problem since stakeholders’ responsibilities have not been laid out in the conduct of tourism. If such practices persist, it won’t be long that Oslob may experience the other faults of other areas offering the same services,” he said.