CEBU CITY — A fishermen’s group in a village in Oslob town, Cebu, spent nearly P2,000 a day for krill or “uyap” to be fed to whale sharks, which have been drawing tourists to this sleepy town since September of last year, a top official said.
Tan-awan barangay chairman Faustino Hudar said whale sharks feeders buy krill in nearby towns of Moalboal and Alegria, as well as in the cities of Toledo and Danao due to its scarcity in the village’s waters.
Limbert Susada, Tan-awan-Oslob Wardens and Fishermen’s Association (Towfa) president, said the krill is bought at P90 per kilo, sometimes P40 per kilo if bought in nearby towns.
On weekdays, feeders buy 18 kilos of krill, but the amount also depends on the volume of tourists who go for the whale shark watching and feeding. With this, the whale shark feeders are taught to budget the krill being fed.
Susada said they order for krill two days before the scheduled hand feeding and place it on a freezer.
“Dili man gud na mukaon ang tuki (local term for whale sharks) kung naa nay baho ang uyap. (Whale sharks do not feed on rotten krill),” he said.
Hudar said the whale sharks, locally known as butanding or tuki, used to tail the boats of fishermen who used krill as bait in fishing.
The hand feeding has been practiced since September 2011, following the arrival of curious local and foreign tourists who wanted to see the harmless giants.
But environmental groups and wildlife conservation advocates discouraged hand feeding as it may alter the natural feeding pattern of these animals.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Central Visayas Director Andres Bojos said, “I am not in favor of feeding the whale sharks because that will alter their feeding instinct. It would be better for the whale shark to feed for itself in a natural environment.”
However, Bojos said the bureau can only give the fishers advice on the proper way of feeding the mammals, adding that even hardcore environmentalists never dared to stop the hand feeding practice because it is already part of the town’s economic activity.
“People who are authorized to feed the sharks must know that sanitation is of paramount importance,” he added.
Meanwhile, Susada said the fisherfolk respect the views of the experts but he explained that even before they started the hand feeding of whale sharks, the animals are already present in the area.
“Pakan-on nimo or dili, naa gyud na sila kay tungod sa uyap. Magsunod-sunod jud sila sa mga fishermen. (You feed them or not, whale sharks will always be after of the krill. They will keep on tailing the boat of the fishermen),” he said.
Hudar and local tourism officer Elizabeth Fernandez-Benologa also recognized the views of the environmentalists, but they insisted that hand feeding doesn’t change the animals’ behavior. They agreed that with the 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. feeding schedule, the whale sharks are left to feed for themselves in the afternoon until the following day.
In a meeting with barangay officials and Bantay Dagat representatives, Hudar raised that the Municipal Government could take a counterpart in spending for the krill.
Fernandez-Benologa assured Wednesday that she will relay the request of Hudar to the local government.
Also raised during the meeting were concerns on the implementation of whale shark watching’s rules and regulations.
A fish warden said foreign tourists still use flash when taking photos, touch the whale sharks and even ride on the animals. These are prohibited under the rules. Tourists are even advised to maintain a six-meter distance from the shark.
With this, Fernandez-Benologa reminded the local officials who are assigned at the registration and briefing areas to tell tourists to strictly follow the procedures.
Tourists should register their names, and attend the briefing after paying for the tickets, before joining the boatmen.