Amidst pleas by a marine biologist to stop it, the whale shark feeding activities in the town of Oslob will continue.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-7 and the Department of Environment of Natural Resources (DENR), in coordination with the local government of Oslob, will jointly monitor the feeding activities for the next three months, to validate the claims of the marine biologist that such actions have changed the whale sharks’ feeding behavior.
The monitoring team will then submit a report and recommendations to the governor after the time period. This move was welcomed by the municipal officials of Oslob, who were called to a meeting by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, along with representatives from BFAR-7, DENR-7 and the Department of Tourism last September 6.
Elson Aca, a marine biologist who wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture and DENR, claims that the hand-feeding activity has altered the behavioral pattern of the whale sharks, and has asked that it be stopped.
Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren said it’s unfair to stop the whale shark feeding in Oslob, which has become one of the town’s attractions, because of the will of one man as compared to the many fisherfolks of Oslob, who have benefited from it as an alternative means of livelihood.
Garcia, as well, disputed the claims of Aca. She said there’s no empirical data that shows the change in the behavioral pattern of the whale sharks, locally known as “tuki.”
“Kay ang behavioral pattern sa whale shark has been established nga moduol gyud ug mga barko ug mga baruto. Apan, for as long as naa sila’s Oslob, sigurado sila’ng di na sila masamdam- kay they are protected there,” Garcia said.
She explained that the whale sharks are well-protected in Oslob, through a municipal ordinance. A briefing on whale shark-handling protocols is also done regularly among the locals. Furthermore, motorboats that have propellers are not allowed in the seas of Barangay Tan-awan, the site where fishermen manually fed the whale sharks with “uyap” or krill.
“If you try to think like a whale shark, unya moingon ka nga mausab ang behavioral pattern kung gipakaon og uyap, then I will throw the same question. Think like a whaleshark. Nganong nagkatigkadaghan man? Moabot na gani at one time ug 23 ang spotted. Why? It’s a basic survival instinct, they feel they are safe in Tan-awan,” Garcia said.
She also told BFAR to include in their study, why the whalesharks keep on coming back to Oslob, despite the efforts of neighboring towns to imitate the feeding activity to attract them. Garcia believes that the waters in Barangay Tan-awan are naturally rich in plankton and has enough species of fish for the whalesharks to eat. The area was already declared a marine sanctuary.
Town Councilor Clemente Filosopo also backed the statement of the governor. He informed that the whalesharks were already in Oslob since he was young. They were even considered as pests by the fishermen before, because these “gentle giants” compete with the fishermen for the catch and also eat their bait, “uyap,” which is abundant in the town. He said the fisherfolks used to beat the whalesharks with their paddles because they cannot catch fish when these sea creatures are around.
Limbet Suzada, president of Tan-awan Oslob Whaleshark Fishermen Association, said it’s technically wrong to say that they are feeding the whalesharks because it is the whalesharks that come to them to be fed.
With the calls to stop the whaleshark feeding program, Guaren said, their town’s tourism suffered a backlash. From the average influx of 200 to 300 tourists daily, the number suddenly went down to less than a hundred. Guaren added that last Tuesday, the number of viewers went further down to 20.
According to Garcia, what happened in Oslob has been phenomenal. She added that, “eco-tourism has been successfully achieved in the town.” The phenomenon has also changed the attitude of the community, in so far as protecting its marine biodiversity is concerned.
The town has also benefited much from the said ecotourism activity. Guaren said they were able to spend money for education and were able to improve their hospital services though the fees collected from the whale shark watching.