Summer heat driving whale sharks deeper into sea waters
MANILA, Philippines–Even the sizzling temperatures could be scaring away the Butanding in Donsol Bay, Sorsogon.
While more tourists are hitting Donsol’s beaches this summer, there are fewer sightings of the main draw: the gentle whale sharks, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF) said Saturday.
Donsol’s surface water temperature averages 28.3 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees hotter than the average of 26.1 degrees Celsius recorded in the 2010 summer, WWF said.
“Our initial findings seem to indicate that the whale sharks are staying in deep water, possibly to avoid the heat,’’ WWF whale shark expert Dave David said in a statement. “They are also highly migratory creatures, so it is not easy to regularly predict their whereabouts.’’
In the summer of 2001, there were also very “few sightings’’ of the whale sharks. On top of the warm sea surface temperatures, the human factor might have something to do with it, too, the international conservation group said.
“Donsol now has far more visitors than it can handle. Coupled with the fact that sightings are decreasing, more and more interaction violations are being reported,” WWF Donsol project manager Raul Burce said.
Quoting tourist Anton Lim, WWF said some swimmers touched the sharks, and bancas raced to where a shark was spotted.
Under the rules, only a single boat of six swimmers is allowed per shark; swimmers should be 3 meters away from its body, and 4 meters away from its tail; they can only interact for 10 minutes, and they can neither touch nor resort to flash photography. Boats are allowed to tour for three hours.
WWF called on tourists, boatmen and guides to stick to the rules.
“The policies were designed not just to protect the whale sharks, but tourists as well. A 30-foot shark can accidentally swat a swimmer straying too close to its tail,’’ Burce said. “By respecting the rules, we’re minimizing our impacts on the ecosystem, especially the sharks.’’
With fewer sightings, Donsol operators are also offering firefly and mangrove tours.
The WWF is attempting to track shark movements through state-of-the-art tracking monitors, instead of relying solely on the trained eyes of spotters.