For her stand to allow the whale shark feeding activity to continue, the fishermen’s association in Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob surprised Governor Gwendolyn Garcia with a gesture of thanksgiving during her visit to the town last September 15.

Garcia was scheduled to watch and observe the whale sharks, locally known as “tuki,” while being fed by the fishermen. On her way to lunch at a resort near the briefing center for tourists, she was asked to drop by the briefing center, where the fisherfolks, including the vendor’s association, expressed their happiness for her support. There were also children showing placards that read: “Salamat Gov. Garcia.”

“Ako natandog kaayo ni’ng inyong gipakita. Nakurat ko, una sa tanan, kay naanad naman gud ko’ng di ko pasalamatan. Kay unsa tong ako nahimo, ako na ‘tong gilantaw nga akong katungdanan. Apan lahi gyud ang Oslob, mao na’y nakapanindot sa Oslobanon. Mao tingali gitagaan mo aning gasa usab, kay na diin-diin na lang ang ubang mga lungsod nga naghandom usab nga ang tuki mahiuyon sa ila, apan nia gyud nahiuyon diri,” Garcia said.

She added that they should not be punished just because the whale sharks frequent their place. They have opened up the minds of every Cebuano, that by protecting the lives of the whale sharks, they have also improved the lives of the fisherfolks in the process.

Limbet Suzada, president of the Tan-awan Oslob Whale shark Fishermen Association (TOWSFA), said they just wanted to thank the governor for defending them.

“Gibuhat ni namo aron amo siyang bugtian. Actually, wa siya nagkinahanglan niini, sama sa iyang giingon, pero naghimo mi’g gamay’ng paagi aron ipakita namo nga nagpasalamat ug nalipay gyud mi kaayo sa iyang gibuhat sa pagpanalipod kanamo,” he said.

Suzada also clarified that they do not intend to change the feeding behavior of the whale sharks because they only give them a handful of “uyap” (krill), just enough to attract them in order to generate an eco-tourism activity.

Recently, Garcia called a meeting with the municipal officials of Oslob, headed by Mayor Ronald Guaren, and representatives from the regional offices of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to discuss the matter.

Despite calls by marine biologists to stop the feeding activity as it allegedly harms the whale sharks in Oslob and changes their behavioral pattern, Garcia allowed it to continue, pending the results of the monitoring that she ordered the BFAR-7 and DENR-7 to conduct to validate these claims.

She also told the agencies to look into the growing number of whale sharks in the seas of Brgy. Tan-awan, and provide answers on why they keep on coming back to Oslob despite the effort of neighboring local government units to lure the whale sharks into their own localities by imitating the feeding activity.

Prior to the said meeting at the Capitol, Suzada said the number of tourists watching the whale sharks suddenly went down following the protest from the marine biologists. After the declaration of Garcia’s stand to continue the feeding activity, however, the influx of visitors once again picked up.

To watch the whale sharks underwater, the LGU of Oslob applies a local rate of P500 per person and charges P1,000 for tourists from outside the town. TOWSFA receives sixty percent of the proceeds while the LGU and the barangay, gets thirty percent and ten percent, respectively. Xerxes Alkuino