Whale sharks can now be tracked in Donsol | Inquirer News
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Whale sharks can now be tracked in Donsol

NAGA CITY—If you’re going to Donsol town in Sorgoson for an encounter with a “butanding” (whale shark) on a clear day, you are not likely to get disappointed.

According to data obtained by the Department of Tourism (DOT) from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 165 whale sharks are now in the waters of Donsol.

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The number was determined through photo identification and satellite tracking systems introduced by the WWF to protect the “gentle giants,” considered the world’s biggest fish, from the intrusive activity of interacting with humans.

Maria Ravanilla, tourism regional director, said the WWF was relaying the information to her office to promote and market the butanding interaction, the main tourism product in Donsol.

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One of the rules to avoid stressing the sea creatures is to limit the number of supervised interactions to one boat-one whale shark, with a maximum of 30 boats allowed at any given time in the open sea.

Ravanilla, however, lamented that the rules were violated during the Holy Week with some 5,000 tourist arrivals reported. “Tourists became impatient and would curse if it took them a long time to wait,” she said.

The WWF tracking showed that the same whale sharks visit Donsol every year, usually from January to May.

Also, the waters appear to be both feeding and breeding grounds following the discovery of a 15-inch juvenile in the area, Ravanilla said.

The whale sharks are monitored through photo identification, which recognizes them individually from the pattern of white spots on the dark side. The method is similar to that used in discerning the constellations from night images used by the Hubble Space Telescope, according to WWF information given to the DOT.

The photo identification of whale sharks visiting Donsol has been going on since 2007. Data are stored in Ecocean, an Australia-based research organization, and are accessible through an Internet-based software application.

The WWF has so far recorded a total of 328 whale sharks in Donsol, of which 154 were recorded last year.

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Whale shark interaction remains the top ecotourism attraction in the country, with a 10 percent growth of tourist arrivals in Sorsogon during the first quarter of 2011.

The WWF described whale shark photo-identification as a non-invasive approach in understanding the uniqueness of individual animals.

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TAGS: Donsol, environment, Tourism, Whale shark
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