‘We didn’t know touching whale sharks was wrong’

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CEBU CITY, Philippines–The small coastal  barangay of North Granada in Boljoon town, southern Cebu, pleaded ignorance after being heavily criticized for mishandling a  whale shark that was stranded there.

Carinn Lestolis, the 18-year-old girl photographed  sitting on top of the  whale shark,  said  she was frightened by the outpouring of anger and online bashing, especially comments about her using the fish as a “surf board.”

“Nahadlok ko nga ma-priso, nasakitan sad ko sa mga gisulti sa mga tawo sa Facebook about nako (I’m afraid of  going to jail.  I was hurt by what  Facebook users said about me),” Lestolis told Cebu Daily News.

Lestolis, her cousins and neighbors were among those  posing as they gathered around the animal.

Several of them hung on to the body of  the 10-foot whale shark, whose tail was tied with a rope.

Fisherman Pablo Trapero told Cebu Daily News the whale shark had gotten caught in their fish nets so they  dragged the nets to the shallows to untangle the animal and set it free.

Before releasing it, though, local residents got excited and swarmed around.

Lestolis said this took place outside their house.

“We didn’t know it’s wrong to touch them. All we know was that they shouldn’t be harmed,” a teary-eyed Lestolis said in Cebuano.

She said riding on the back of the whale shark was just  harmless fun for them.

“We got excited and happy when we saw the  whale shark, so we  posed with it and posted it on Facebook,” Lestolis said.

She said she  balanced  on the back of the whale shark  for about two minutes to strike a pose.

The whale shark is called tuki by local residents in south Cebu and is also known as butanding.

Lestolis said she already deleted the photo album and  is thinking of deleting her Facebook page after the incident.

North Granada barangay councilor Pedro Lestolis, Carinn’s father, said he was in the area when the incident occurred.

He said they didn’t know that handling the whale shark that way was wrong.

Under Republic Act 9147, an Act for the conservation  and Protection of Wildlife Resources and Habitats, it is illegal to maltreat or kill endangered species, like the whale shark.

The penalty is three to six months in jail with a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 for maltreating an endangered species.  A longer prison term and higher fine is slapped for killing and destroying them.

The photo that circulated online was from the Facebook profile of a  neighbor, barangay  treasurer Liza Sesaldo.

Many mistook her for being the girl riding the whale shark.

Sesaldo said she was  hurt by the critical comments online and from radio commentaries about the photos, which Cebu Daily News carried on its front page yesterday.

“I was harassed by their comments,” Sesaldo said.

The whale shark in the photographs was trapped in the fishnets of 61-year-old Granada resident Pablo Trapero.

At 5 a.m. last Saturday, he said they were surprised when they couldn’t lift the nets, which are usually left at sea overnight,  only to find a   whale shark caught in it.

“We had to bring it to the shore so we can tear the nets,” Trapero told Cebu Daily News.

He said  whale sharks often  get trapped in their nets, but could usually free themselves.

Trapero said they had to tie the whale shark’s tail to keep it still.

He said it took them two hours to release the whale shark  100 meters from the shore.

Trapero said  local residents crowded around the whale shark after the nets were removed near the shore. He said they led the fish back to the open sea at 8 a.m.

Boljoon Mayor Teresita Celis met with residents yesterday to verify  the incident, which she had first denied had happened at all.

Celis said she only knew about it yesterday morning when her employees showed the photographs on Facebook.

“I was really infuriated,”  Celis said.

When Cebu Daily News first asked Celis about the photos last Sunday, she denied the photos were taken in Boljoon because fishermen don’t feed it, like those in the next town of Oslob, which has enjoyed a tourist boom from promoting “whale shark interaction” in the water.

Celis yesterday said her town plans to pass an ordinance that will penalize the touching or riding of whale sharks.

“I assure you, it won’t happen again. There will  be no second time.  If it will happen again, we will penalize them,” she said.

Celis said she was worried about negative online feedback  over the Facebook posts.

She said she warned  local residents yesterday that if it happens again, she’ll have them jailed.

In the meantime, she said they would intensify an information campaign about the whale sharks since their area in south Cebu is part of the migratory path of the animals.

Oslob town has enjoyed a tourism boom in recent months, with  foreign and local visitors paying P300 each to ride a paddle boat not far from the shore to see  whale sharks approach fishermen who hand feed them krill, while tourists swim near it or watch from boats.

Regional Director Andres Boholst of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Visayas (BFAR-7) said the people who touched and rode on the whale shark couldn’t be penalized, unless an ordinance is approved and enforced by the local government unit.

“Whale sharks are naturally friendly, so they would not inflict harm,” he said.

In Oslob, rules about “no touching” and “no feeding whale sharks” are told to visitors in an outdoor tent used as a briefing area while fishermen who have becom guides belong to a association accredited with the Oslob municipal government.

Boholst said riding and touching the whale shark may give it ailments.

Their huge tail can also harm persons who approach it.

He said a person should at least be five feet away from the whale shark for safety.

Regional Director Rowena Montecillo of the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas (DOT-7) also went to the barangay to check the report of whale shark abuse that has circulated around the world because of the Internet.

“This happened because the people are unaware (about how to handle whale sharks),” Montecillo said.

Still the DOT-7 chief said the incident also showed that the public is concerned about the whale sharks.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the Facebook photos clearly showed a state of ignorance.

“This should be taken up by the mayor concerned,” she said.

Earlier this year, Garcia issued an executive order for the creation of the technical working group (TWG) to craft  guidelines for whale shark watching in Oslob town. /Candeze R. Mongaya, Reporter with Correspondent Carmel Loise Matus

First posted 7:23 am | Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

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  • WendellGlennDrWendsCagape

    In all honesty, there has to be accountability here. The acts were done in apparent violation of the law. Someone has to be accountable for this. 

  • http://twitter.com/boangcahcee mark

    dah cge pa… pa picture pa..

  • EdgarEdgar

    ‘We didn’t know touching whale sharks was wrong’

    Well now you know. But it’s not exactly your fault. You just happened to post your pics at the wrong time, when eyeball traffic is high, and people are holy and idle, and the moral urge to condemn fellow human beings is summerly feverish. Next time, call your nearest sushi chef or dimsum cook. You might even get a huge cut for the fish.
     

    • TGM_ERICK

      Hahaha! It is good that they are not in their bikinis while posing with the whale.

      • TGM_ERICK

         wrong button

  • suroy_suroy

    The whole incident shows a few very clear facts.

    The people are ignorant of the animals living in their neighborhood in the sea. Lacking education. The people are also ignorant of the law. Lacking education.

    The mayor as a politian as usual so long as possible in denial mode. Lacking training.

    Once the people made to understand what kind of animals they have for a treasure at their doorsteps, those same people will be their best protectors.

    Just educate them.

    • lastduckstanding

      How can anyone not see that standing on a shark while its tail is tied down by the rope does not seem to harm it?

  • WeAry_Bat

    ” “Whale sharks are naturally friendly, so they would not inflict harm,” he said.

     Boholst said riding and touching the whale shark may give it ailments. ”

    The bacteria of our hands may not be the bacteria which the whale’s skin has natural defenses, or any other aquatic mammal.  Let no one make an exception of dolphin-riding in the ocean parks, those creatures are well-maintained and cared for.  Those whales don’t have anyone else except themselves.

  • MikeCrisologo

    just educate them , not degrade or belittle them , in some rich countries whales and sharks are delicasies.

  • http://joboni96.myopenid.com/ joboni96

    hindi na lang touching yan

    tinatapakan mo na

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q3QGG5QHBLRMZTIYWUFURY6J2E Night

    ano tawag sa we didnt know???? NOYNOYING!!!! buwahahahaha

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647306427 Sherrie Chambers

    Guys, it’s a shark, not a whale. One is a fish, one is a mammal. It appears the people featured in this story are not the only uneducated ones.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EGVHDQT7JEE4WDAWZFAZDNTFCU dominador

      Shall we say “Balyenang Pating”  balyena na naging pating or vice-versa..

  • http://www.facebook.com/edlynkalman Edlyn Kalman

    yes, what happened was definitely wrong. but what this indicates is the great LACK in filipino education. these people are RESIDENTS in the area of cebu. yet they claim they KNOW NOTHING about whalesharks, which are just in their backyards. (while visitors travel thousands of miles just to see their coast). the philippines is so gifted in terms of natural resources. it’s awful that FILIPINOS DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT.  it’s a crying shame that people in coastal areas are NOT EDUCATED about the coast! we should stop the “a is for apple; b is for bears…” (this is from actual textbooks i’ve seen in my tutoring – such non-contextualized learning!). the philipines hardly has bears and we have to import apples. how about “a – atis; b- butanding; etc.” let’s localize education and make it REAL!!! 
    children in these areas should be learning about what is in their environment. one of the first tasks of education is to equip people with knowledge about their surroundings, engender curiosity, knowledge, and responsibility, so they can move about like enlightened citizens and not like ignorant savages like the people pictured here. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/V5KLRSF746GOIN5HXAOSCRR774 Davey

    That stupid, stupid 
    Carinn Lestolis – says she knew the Shark was not to be harmed, but then goes and stands on its back?

    Is she an idiot – yes she is, because now she has 6 billion enemies in this world.

  • lastduckstanding

    The lack of education cannot excuse the lack common sense.  This is just a case of people wanting to have some stuff to post on their fb at these poor creatures’ cost.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MJW2CHZBIO7YZ6MK3KVALX4VM4 Jhonny

    she was so eager to climb on top of the helpless animal just to post the pic on FB. Shame on her!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AFDQQH2M3OD6ZGBJNJ34UZHIV4 Enrico

    Wag pabayaang dumami ang mga sharks, whales, dophin at iba pang malalaking lamang dagat dahil kaagaw natin sila sa isda…

  • pepengkabayo

    We didn’t know touching whale sharks was wrong’…..

    Who told you that touching a whale shark is wrong.
    What is wrong is catching them, kill and eat them. That is very wrong.
    Whale Shark is also a fish, then touching fish is wrong much more catching and eating them.
    Next time, don’t touch a fish like galunggong if you them, use a fork and spoon to eat them.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JQDJHKMXIHBEE4JALFIAMGQK7A pip

       I totally agree!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JQDJHKMXIHBEE4JALFIAMGQK7A pip

    Mao na lagi ni.. sa 2 ka article akong nabasa karon diri sa inquirer…magbantay2 lagi sa mga pictures…labi na pag-ipost sa fb…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7BBLFWLJPEWFTHFJNHWXSDGIME Aaron

    pity the ignorant fools.   the LGUs in those coastal cebu towns should be  proactive in educating their constituents not anybody  else.  only education and awareness is the key to the survival of all our endangered species.  

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