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Feeding whale sharks is okay, says dive group chief

07:47 AM January 06, 2012

AN official of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) said there’s nothing wrong with hand feeding whale sharks that frequent the waters of Oslob town, southwestern Cebu.

“We can’t determine if feeding is bad because there are no studies we can refer to. What we know is that it tamed the whale sharks,” PCSSD official Gary Cases told Cebu Daily News.

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In recent months, more tourists have been drawn to Oslob, where whale sharks approach paddle boats knowing that fishermen would feed them tiny shrimps or krill.

The budding eco-tourism enterprise, however, has raised concern about how the unregulated activity will affect the sea creatures.

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The Whale Shark Watchers Organization earier wrote to Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to warn against the practice of Oslob fisherfolk feeding the sea creatures.

They said this would reduce the whale sharks’ natural hunting instincts and make them dependent on humans.

But Cases said fisherfolk, who have found a new livelihood as guides for whale shark watching, are doing the right thing.

“If the whale sharks move away from Oslob, they will be hunted by other fishermen. It’s s better to have a live whale shark than a dead one,” he said.

Cases said the whale sharks remain in their natural habitat and won’t lose their instincts.

“The activity has to continue. If you stop it, the whale sharks will go away, then move to other areas, and will be in danger of being hunted. Better keep them there,” he said.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said she will visit Oslob town tomorrow to check on the conditions of the whale sharks locally known as butanding in the seas of barangay Tan-awan.

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“We need a code of conduct for the divers and the public, even the fisherfolk, so that we all play our proper roles and we do not upset an existing balance,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cases said a study will be made with the group Ocean Care and the Department of Tourism (DOT-7) on the activities in Oslob, including the sustainability of their food supply.

Whale sharks feed on plankton, a microorganism living in the ocean. Cases said as a veteran diver with the help of marine biologists and other partners will “go ahead” in helping develop eco-tourism in Oslob.

He said Oslob has the facilities to draw diving enthusiasts to their shores.

“The promising thing about it is they don’t have to go very far. Cebu also has facilities, there are plenty of dive shops, compression chambers,” Cases said.

He said whale sharks frequent the Oslob shoreline because it is part of their migratory route and has rich marine biodiversity.

In an interview, Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren said the Whale Shark Watchers Organization provided him with a study on whale sharks that would form the basis of a municipal ordinance.

Guaren said he will visit the governor on Monday to present the draft ordinance on the protection of these animals.

Next month, the DOT will provide training for local residents on guest handling and water safety while the PCSSD will train fisherfolk on handling tourists and the animals.

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