For the third year, Fr. Tito Soquiño officiated a Mass for the environment in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in his belief that devotion to the Holy Child should also be expressed through responsible stewardship of creation.

It’s a timely message in the light of Nature’s cry for help in the fate of at least 14 whale sharks that frequent the coast of Oslob town in south Cebu.

Fishermen have turned into marine guides, feeding the butanding small shrimps to attract them to their boats, and draw in more fee-paying tourists.

Two whale sharks got more than they baragained for. One named “Lucas” by fishermen, sustained a wound in the head after being hit by the propeller of a motorboat, while another, named “Berto,” swims around with a spear lodged in his back.

Unless Cebuanos handle this newfound marvel with great care, we could be doing more harm than good to these gentle creatures.

Whale sharks are categorized as “vulnerable” (three notches away from “extinct”) under the “Red List” of threatened species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

We commend Oslob town’s effort in passing a municipal ordinance to regulate the fast-growing enterprise with clear rules that forbid the use of motorized boats in approaching the whale sharks or swimming m less than three meters away.

It’s also taboo to touch or ride the deep sea creatures that have found their way to the shallows of barangay Tan-awan, Oslob.

The real test, though, is in enforcement of the rules and developing in the coastal community a shared sense of protection for the school of butanding whose unusual behaviour has not been fully understood yet, or the consequences of the sudden intense interest of so many visitors.

On the Internet, underwater photos have circulated in recent months showing daredevil divers riding a whale shark in Oslob for sheer bragging rights. Irresponsible images like these only whet the appetite of other thrill seekers who risk harming gentle, non-predatory denizens of the sea.

There’s a lot of ignorance and greed to watch out for.

Oslob residents and tourists alike should remember that the amazing show off the coast of barangay Tan-awan may go away as easily as it appeared. By nature, the whale sharks are just passing through.

The IUCN dossier on whale sharks states that “these animals undertake multi-annual and very long-distance migrations” from Australia to Asia, including a two-month migration from the Mindanao Sea to the south of Vietnam , the Gulf of California, Mexico, to near Tonga.