Whale sharks become instant attraction in Albay
TABACO CITY—Local officials have taken measures to protect seven “butanding” or whale sharks that are in the waters about 150 meters from this city’s shore for over a week now.
They had banned fishing in the area within the vicinity of the butanding, said city agriculturist Armi Brobio.
To compensate the fishermen, their bancas are made available for hire by local residents or tourists who want to get closer to the whale sharks. But getting too close and/or feeding the butanding are also prohibited, she said.
The presence of the butanding at the Albay Gulf facing the coastal village of San Lorenzo, Tabaco City, has been drawing hundreds of people both from this city and elsewhere, most of whom saw the gentle mammals for the first time.
Brobio said they had organized a Bantay Dagat (sea rangers) team to protect the whale sharks.
“To ensure the safety of the gentle giant mammals, we ordered a stop in the fishing activity in the area where the butandings are swimming, playing and eating,” she said.
Fishermen could still fish close to where the butanding are found but they can use only fishing rods. The use of nets has been prohibited to avoid causing harm to the whale sharks, similar to what happened earlier this week when the tail of one of the butanding got entangled with a fishing net, Brobio said.
She said the butanding that got entangled with the net was not hurt but the net has still to be removed. She said they were now working with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and some divers to find a way to remove the net.
Vicente Bornolio, a member of the Bantay Dagat team, said they would patrol the area round-the-clock to ensure the safety of the whale sharks.
Gerald Calvo of the BFAR-Albay stranding and rescue team said about seven whale sharks of different sizes were seen in the area. They measure about 10 to 20 meters long.
Calvo believed the butanding might have come to Albay Gulf because of its clean water and the abundance of fish.
Butanding are usually sighted in the waters of the neighboring province of Sorsogon, primarily in the coastal town of Donsol, during summer.
Danilo Boncodin, 54, a fisherman from San Lorenzo, said they first saw the whale sharks, initially about four of them, on Feb. 22.
Even if he could no longer fish close to where the butandings are, he said he still feels blessed by their presence here.
“The presence of these gentle mammals is a gift from God. It’s just like a pot of gold for us because they direct us where we can find the schools of fish, especially the dilis (anchovies), which are considered their food,” he said.
San Lorenzo Barangay Captain Christopher Brutas said he ordered the residents to refrain from getting closer to the gentle giant mammal as it may get stressed.
“We will take care of them, guard them so they would not get harmed. It’s our pleasure that they have visited us. With their presence, many tourists will have the chance to visit our sleepy barangay just to see them,” he said.
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