‘Butanding’ appearance excites Legazpi folk, execs
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – It’s amazing what whale sharks can do.
Tourism and business in the city are agog over the sighting of the gentle giants, also known as “butanding,” in coastal waters just 30 meters off the city boulevard.
The eight whale sharks frolicked in the water, drawing hundreds of onlookers, according to Mayor Noel Rosal.
The city government wasted no time setting up a butanding interaction office for the protection of the whale sharks.
Bem Redito, the city’s butanding interaction officer, said by phone that six whale sharks started to appear in the coastal waters in the first week of February. The number grew to eight after a week.
Redito said that for two weeks now, the whale sharks had showed up in the waters of Albay Gulf 90 times.
At least 40 foreign tourists have come to see the creatures, according to Redito.
Redito said he believed the whale sharks were not from Donsol, a town in Sorsogon province made famous by the biggest fish in the world.
The ones that appeared here, he said, were still young.
Mayor Rosal quickly issued an executive order to regulate interaction with the whale sharks to stop people from getting too near the creatures and riding on their backs or feeding them.
This early, Rosal said he had already suspended two interaction officer and two boatmen for allowing foreign tourists to ride on the whale sharks.
Rosal said the city patterned its rules on whale shark interaction after those of the World Wildlife Fund, an international organization working to protect endangered animals.
People are allowed to swim along with the whale sharks but are required to keep a safe distance from the animals.
Joan Encinares, city tourism officer, said boatmen were being trained to handle whale shark interaction. Accreditation by the city government is also needed for boatmen to act as whale shark tour guides.
The city government has set fees of P1,000 to P1,500 per boat for whale shark tourists.
Chito Ante, city business consultant, said the entertainment business along the boulevard was now thriving as a result of the whale shark appearance, the second time the creatures have shown up near the city.
Rosal said whale sharks first appeared in the city waters in 2010. The city apparently wants to cash in on the whale sharks, as Donsol has done.
Donsol has capitalized on its fame as a whale shark capital. But sightings of the creatures in the town declined last year.
Alan Amanse, head of the butanding interaction office in Donsol, said rising sea temperature, stress and insufficient plankton were among the reasons that drove the whale sharks away.
Amanse said temperatures in the waters off Donsol rose from 26 to 27 degrees Celsius, ideal for whale sharks, to 29 to 30 degrees last year.
The whale sharks that stayed behind in Donsol are also smaller, said Amanse.
Rey Aquino, Donsol councilor, said he believed that the rampant gathering of plankton by fishermen and E. coli contamination were shooing the whale sharks away.
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