BFAR to look into whale shark feeding
A team of divers from the state fisheries agency will monitor whale shark feeding in Oslob town to frame recommendations on whether or not to stop the activity.
According to Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic REsources -7 (BFAR-7) Assistant Regional Director Alan Poquita, they formed a six man technical team to study the impact of whale shark feeding in Oslob.
Monitoring methodology and definite schedule have yet to be determined, Poquita added.
Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren confirmed the agency has coordinated with the town for a future site visit.
“We will provide them with local guides and necessary equipment,”Guaren said.
Though whale shark conservation is beyond their mandate, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier ordered its marine-related departments to coordinate with local government unit and the BFAR in ensuring that the largest fish species is protected.
With the possibility of livelihood decline among fisherfolk involved in Oslob’s whale shark tourism, DENR “can provide assistance to the fishermen through the integrated coastal resources and management projects by providing alternative opportunities through eco-tourism enterprises,” said DENR-7 spokesman Eddie Llamedol.
The local government unit of Oslob can “anytime pass an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of whale sharks, supplementing the existing ordinance,” he added.
But the mayor emphasized what they are doing is not feeding per se.
“We just give them some food so they will surface for the tourists to see,” Guarin.
Unlike caged animals in the zoo, these whale sharks are free to swim whenever and wherever, he said.
“I respect the opinions of these scientists but I don’t believe we are altering their behavior. We are not even sure if they will come back after feeding them,” he added.
Samantha Craven of the Lamave whale shark research project in an e-mail to Cebu Daily News explained the potential long term issues of fish feeding as cited in the group’s summary report for the month of April to May.
“The feeding makes a positive association between humans, boats and food. The whale shark is unable to distinguish between different types of boats and therefore is able to approach any boat in search for food, even if this is outside the interaction area. This means there are increased chances of propeller wounds from motorized boats,” Craven said.
She added they are also looking at the impact of the Oslob whale shark tourism to the fishes’ behaviour as they are not known to have social relations unlike dolphins. Fish health issues are also being looked into by Craven’s group.
Barangay Tan-awan captain Faustino Hudar said he does not believe that people are harming the whale sharks.
He said the newest nature attraction has helped uplfit the lives of residents through this new livelihood.
The Philippines is one of the earliest countries to have laws protecting whale sharks when it enacted Fisheries Administrative Order 198 in 1998.
The order prohibits killing, harming and trading of whale sharks.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) included the gentle giants in its Red List or vulnerable list.
Those included in the list are classified as an endangered species.
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