A Facebook photo of a girl riding atop a whale shark and assisted by a native in barangay Granada in Boljoon town, southern Cebu stirred up a tempest of outrage among the Filipino cyber community yesterday.
The Facebook photo was posted last March 31 by a certain Liza Sesaldo who stated in a caption that it was taken in Oslob town, also in southern Cebu. Oslob Mayor Ronal Guarin said he ordered an investigation into the incident.
He clarified that he received reports of a whale shark stranded in Boljoon last Saturday, but he couldn’t confirm if it was the same photo posted in Facebook.
“(The photo) is definitely not from Oslob,” Guarin told Cebu Daily News.
Boljoon mayor Teresita Celis denied that the Facebook photo in question was taken in her town.
Celis said while many whale sharks frequent their area, they don’t stay because the fisherfolk don’t feed them.
“Those pics are not from Boljoon. The species don’t even come closer in the coastal areas,” Celis said. She said they don’t feed the whale sharks for fear that they might disturb their migration route and natural feeding process.
Still, most Facebook and Twitter users mistook the photo as being taken from Oslob town.
“OSLOB, CEBU! Get your act together. Whale sharks are not surfboards. I condemn this act!” said ABSC-CBN TV travel show host Kat de Castro.
Guarin said the incident as depicted in the Facebook photo, which was shared 819 times, wouldn’t happen in Oslob because they strictly enforce an ordinance “to protect the marine species in their area.”
Despite this, Guarin said marine biologists were deployed by the municipal government to trace the whale sharks and see if they were wounded.
The Boljoon police said they received a report about a whale shark in their area.
PO1 Lord Canada said residents of barangay Granada told them that they spotted a whale shark in their coastal community.
“The whale shark seemed trapped, but local fisherfolk guided it back to the sea,” Canada told Cebu Daily News.
Canada said they went to the area but were told by the residents there that the whale shark already went away. “The whale shark didn’t stay there for long according to the fisherfolk,” he said.
Barangay Granada is a coastal community along the highway frequented by buses passing through the southern part of Cebu. Canada said the area is also two barangays away from Oslob, which became an ecotourism sensation.
Guarin said he would lobby for stringent enforcement of a provincial ordinance proposed by Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia that will protect whale sharks and other marine species in Cebu.
Marine biologist Gary Cases of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) said if the whale shark was harmed in any way, it won’t return to the area. “If they felt threatened, they would leave the area,” he said.
Cases said it’s normal for the whale sharks to frequent the coastal area in Boljoon and Oslob since it is part of their migration route.
The docile nature of the whale sharks, which were fed with krill by the fisherfolk of barangay Tan-awan, Oslob town, has made it a favorite among tourists, who often swim up close to the creatures.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Visayas (BFAR-7) earlier said it will provide intervention programs on the negative effects of whale shark watching activities.
Two whale sharks that were spotted frequenting the coastal waters off barangay Tan-awan in Oslob town sustained injuries in separate occasions recently. “Berto” was speared on the back while “Lucas” was wounded in the head by a propeller of a motor banca.