MANILA, Philippines—For saving a dolphin trapped in a fishing net, a 63-year-old fisherman from Ilocos Norte has been named the latest “Hero of the Environment” by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines.
Francisco Vergara, who alerted authorities after he discovered an adult rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis) enmeshed in a fishing net in Badoc town, was recognized by WWF-Philippines for “coming to the aid of a distressed and dying animal.”
Setting out at sea on his tiny boat in the wee hours of June 18, the fisherman came across the animal struggling for life in waters between the villages of Pagsanaan Sur and Pagsanaan Norte, the environmentalist group said in a news release.
“The senior citizen wasted no time alerting authorities which quickly pooled resources to release the animal by 9:45 a.m.,” WWF-Philippines said. The dolphin appeared healthy and strong by the time of its release, according to the statement.
In a simple ceremony on July 25, Vergara was recognized as the latest environmental hero by Badoc Mayor Arlene Torralba, Vice Mayor Tom Torralba, and WWF-Philippines conservation programs vice president Joel Palma.
“Despite being a senior citizen, Vergara not only made his country proud—he saved a life. We hope that others can follow his example,” Palma said.
WWF’s Heroes of the Environment program was launched in 2009 to reward individuals that show “decisive environmental action.”
“Counting Vergara, WWF has awarded a total of 16 people, ranging from a shy 8-year-old that helped save a wounded risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) in Mindoro to highly-acclaimed dolphin and peace mural artist AG Saño, who painted over 30,000 dolphins to protest both the annual killing of dolphins in Japan and the keeping of dolphins in captivity,” Palma said.
“To date, Vergara is our oldest awardee,” Palma said.
WWF-Philippines described the country as a “hotbed for whales and dolphins.”
Twenty-eight—a third of all known cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) species—have been recorded in Philippine waters as of 2013, the group said.
Cetaceans plying Philippine waters include the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), the killer whale (Orcinus orca), and the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest creature on earth reaching lengths of 100 feet.
Though all cetacean species are protected under Philippine Republic Act No. 9147, their incidental capture or bycatch remains a serious and pervasive threat, according to WWF-Philippines.
The group has been collaborating with leading Filipino marine mammal experts and conservationists to reduce fisheries bycatch and conduct marine mammal training programs with local governments, coastal communities and private sector allies since 1997.